The Moral Basis of Religious Exemptions

Law and Philosophy 35 (1):1-28 (2016)
Kevin Vallier
Bowling Green State University
Justifying religious exemptions is a complicated matter. Citizens ask to not be subject to laws that everyone else must follow, raising worries about equal treatment. They ask to be exempted on a religious basis, a basis that secular citizens do not share, raising worries about the equal treatment of secular and religious citizens. And they ask governmental structures to create exceptions in the government’s own laws, raising worries about procedural fairness and stability. We nonetheless think some religious exemptions are appropriate, and in some cases, that exemptions are morally required. So how are we to determine when religious exemptions are justified? This article employs a public reason framework to provide an answer. I show how to publicly justify religious exemptions. My thesis is that a citizen merits a religious exemption under four conditions: if she has sufficient intelligible reason to oppose the law, if the law imposes unique and substantial burdens on the integrity of those exempted that are not off-set by comparable benefits, if the large majority of citizens have sufficient reason to endorse the law, and if the exempted group does not impose significant costs on other parties that require redress. If these conditions are met, then legislative and/or judicial bodies should carve out an exemption for those requesting them
Keywords religious exemptions  law and religion  religion and politics  constitutional law  public reason liberalism  political liberalism
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DOI 10.1007/s10982-015-9246-9
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