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Religious Exemptions$
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Kevin Vallier and Michael Weber

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190666187

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190666187.001.0001

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Conscience, Religion, and Exemptions

Conscience, Religion, and Exemptions

An Egalitarian View

(p.9) 1 Conscience, Religion, and Exemptions
Religious Exemptions

Kevin Vallier

Michael Weber

Oxford University Press

There is widespread agreement about the necessity of legally protecting the freedom to determine one’s own stance toward religion and to act on the basis of one’s deeply held beliefs. But the agreement stops there. The question of the meaning and extension of religious freedom and of its relationship with arguably broader notions of freedom of conscience is vexed and controversial. Moreover, as a consequence of the indeterminacy about the meaning and scope of religious freedom, the normative status of religious exemptions and other forms of accommodation remains contested. Do religious accommodations have a role to play in a fair system of social cooperation? Is there something special about religion that makes it acceptable to exempt religiously committed citizens from otherwise legitimate rules of general application? Political and legal theorists are divided on this issue. This chapter argues that there is something special about religion that warrants, under specific circumstances, reasonable accommodation measures. It also argues that religious and spiritual commitments can and should be analogized with a certain category of secular commitments that can be called “meaning-giving beliefs and commitments.” Both religious and secular meaning-giving beliefs and commitments will be presented as legitimate grounds for accommodations claims. The chapter first summarizes why the author thinks that religious exemptions are morally justified, and then addresses some of the criticisms put forward by those who argue that something crucial is lost when religious freedom is collapsed into an allegedly broader category such as freedom of conscience or ethical independence. This chapter mainly focuses on Cécile Laborde’s challenge to what she calls “egalitarian theories of religious freedom.”

Keywords:   freedom of conscience, exemptions, egalitarianism, meaning-giving beliefs, fairness

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