Negotiating Religious Exemptions: A Public Reason Perspective

Dissertation, (2019)

Andrei Bespalov
University of Warwick
I put forward three reasons why religious exemptions from generally applicable laws are not publicly justifiable in a liberal democratic society. First, mere claims of the form “God says so and my conscience requires that I obey” do not explicate the rationale behind the legal provisions that they are expected to support. Therefore, such claims cannot be regarded even as pro tanto justificatory reasons for any legal provisions, be they laws or exemptions. Second, no matter how elaborate, reasons based on religious faith cannot be allowed in public justification of exemptions because such reasons involve non-negotiable claims about final values, which is incompatible with respect for fellow citizens as equal co-legislators. Third, even if religious arguments are allowed in public justification, carving out religious exemptions from generally applicable laws is still impermissible because it arbitrarily bends the sovereign will of the people to the dictate of religious doctrines.
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