A Case Against Religious Exemptions

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A Case Against Religious Exemptions A law can be thought of as a rule that is enforced by an organization or person, and whose purpose is to regulate social behavior. It is, however, hard to find a one-size-fits-all law that pleases everyone who has to follow it. Religious denominations have historically sought some exemption from generally applicable laws, and in many parts of the world, those exemptions have been granted. However, the bases on which these groups seek exemptions are questionable, and such immunities might not be the best foundation for sound political theory. Hence, religious groups should not be granted exemptions from laws unless these exemptions pose no burden on society. Brian Leiter’s Why Tolerate Religion? questions traditional beliefs about religion, and claims that there is no “moral reason to single out matters of religious conscience for special legal consideration and solicitude” (Leiter ix). Leiter does not claim that the freedom of practicing religion should not be protected, however, he believes that exemption claims based on secular beliefs deserve equal consideration as those based on religious ones (Leiter 64). Later, he explains how secular exemptions from law obstruct social welfare, and hence favors granting only those exemptions, religious or otherwise, that do not harm society (Leiter 100). One of the major reasons why religious groups are granted freedom from following certain laws is that religion is often considered a special form of association. In “What is so Special About Religion?”, Sonu Bedi argues that exempting religious groups from a law is justified only if religion is thought of as a non-voluntary, rigid and indisputable. Bedi argues that if religion is considere... ... middle of paper ... ..., nowhere has it been mentioned that “free exercise” implies such exemptions, and the very meaning of “free exercise” has been questioned since. Also, free exercise cannot mean that one can use their religion to harm another - for instance, consider the Islamic Sharia law situation mentioned earlier. States contemplating granting special provisions to religions must keep in mind the effect that these provisions can have on society. By allowing religious groups to claim exemptions while making laws strict for secular unions, states are effectively placing religions on a pedestal that they do not deserve. In contrast, if they allow any union, religious or otherwise, to claim exemptions, legal systems would implode and we would relapse into an anarchic society. States wanting to promote diversity and encourage minorities must look for better ways to do so.
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