Skip to main content

WHY TOLERATE RELIGION by Brian Leiter

Brian Leiter

A recent issue of THE FEDERAL LAWYER contained a review of a book on religion and the state, Brian Leiter's WHY TOLERATE RELIGION?

Okay, the title is rather provocative. But that's how one sells books nowadays. ANyway, I confess that everything I know of the book comes from the review, all the following quotations are second hand. Shame on me.

The heart of the book:

"[I]t is not obvious why the state should subordinate its other morally important objectives -- safety, health, well-being, equal treatment before the law -- to claims of religious conscience."

Related (but distinct) claim is that "religious claims of conscience have no greater entitlement to exemptions than other nonreligious claims of conscience."

It is appropriate, Leiter thinks, for a government "to say, the law is the law, and there will be no exemptions for claims of conscience, religious or otherwise."

But Leiter approves of this no-exemptions stance only with a caveat. "A law must genuinely have neutral objectives," it must not be animated at any level by bias against a religion. France's prohibition of head covering is an example that, in Leiter's view anyway, fails this test.

Comments

  1. Leiter has a blog that I enjoy: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/

    ReplyDelete
  2. A case can be made that religious claims of conscience should have LESS entitlement to exemptions than nonreligious claims of conscience. This is because they tend to be less rational.

    Consider the "conscientious objector" exemption to the military draft, which was granted solely to those who objected to all wars on the basis of their religious belief (although the U.S. Supreme Court held that a religious belief included a belief that "occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God").

    The prerequisite for an exemption that one object to ALL wars (also a U.S. Supreme Court holding) meant that during the Vietnam war, for example, draft boards would deny applications for conscientious objector status to young men who would not have refused to fight Hitler. Yet a willingness to fight Hitler combined with an unwillingness to fight in Vietnam (because it was a U.S. war of aggression) was more rational than an unwillingness to fight all wars.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I appreciate that my above comment assumes that rational beliefs are superior to irrational ones. That is something that one cannot prove. Furthermore, to "prove" it means to prove it rationally, which would beg the question by assuming the superiority of rationality in the attempt to prove the superiority of rationality.

    I also appreciate that one might make rational arguments for opposing all wars. How successful they would be I can't say, but, even if successful, they would not have gotten one conscientious objector status.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.



We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

Hume's Cutlery

David Hume is renowned for two pieces of cutlery, the guillotine and the fork.

Hume's guillotine is the sharp cut he makes between "is" statements and "ought" statements, to make the point that the former never ground the latter.

His "fork" is the division between what later came to be called "analytic" and "synthetic" statements, with the ominous observation that any books containing statements that cannot be assigned to one or the other prong should be burnt.

Actually, I should acknowledge that there is some dispute as to how well or poorly the dichotomy Hume outlines really maps onto the analytic/synthetic dichotomy. Some writers maintain that Hume meant something quite different and has been hijacked. Personally, I've never seen the alleged difference however hard they've worked to point it out to me.

The guillotine makes for a more dramatic graphic than a mere fork, hence the bit of clip art above.

I'm curious whe…