Why Tolerate Conscience?

Criminal Law and Philosophy:1-21 (forthcoming)

Authors
Cecile Laborde
University College London
François Boucher
Université du Québec à Montréal
Abstract
In Why Tolerate Religion?, Brian Leiter argues against the special legal status of religion, claiming that religion should not be the only ground for exemptions to the law and that this form of protection should be, in principle, available for the claims of secular conscience as well. However, in the last chapter of his book, he objects to a universal regime of exemptions for both religious and secular claims of conscience, highlighting the practical and moral flaws associated with it. We believe that Leiter identifies a genuine and important contemporary legal and philosophical problem. We find much to admire in his reasoning. However, we raise questions about two claims that are crucial for his argument. The first claim is that it is not religion as such, but conscience that deserves toleration and respect. The second claim is that respect for religion and conscience demands ‘principled toleration’ but does not entail stronger policies of legal exemptions. Against the first claim, we argue that Leiter does not successfully distinguish religious belief from secular conscience and morality; and he does not explain why secular conscience deserves respect. Against the second claim, we argue that the most promising theories of legal exemptions are not classical theories of liberal toleration
Keywords Legal exemptions  Freedom of religion  Freedom of conscience  Toleration  Brian Leiter
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DOI 10.1007/s11572-014-9357-7
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