How might a liberal philosopher argue in favour of the 1976 Motor-Cycle Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act? How might a liberal philosopher a...

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Between 1972 and 1976 all motorcycle riders in the UK were required to wear a crash helmet. In 1976, the Motor-Cycle Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act was passed, allowing Sikh males an exemption from wearing crash helmets whilst riding motorcycles. This exemption was granted on the grounds that Sikh men are required to wear turbans as part of their religious observance. Exemptions such as these are often granted on the belief that members of particular religious or cultural groups should be exempt from certain laws or policies in order to protect their cultural or religious identity or practices. This rule and exemption approach taken by the British government sparked considerable philosophical debate, particularly amongst liberal philosophers.

Liberalism, a philosophical tradition that developed in the seventeenth century stresses the rights and personal autonomy of the individual. Furthermore it supports the idea that all human beings should be treated equally under the law. The debate that arose surrounding the exemption passed by the British Government in 1976 centred around two distinct groups of Liberal Philosophers. Those against the exemption who proscribed to the Difference-Blind school of Liberalism argued that differences in ethnicity, religion, culture and gender should be ignored. Emphasise should instead be placed on the universally common features of our humanity. They argue that cultural, religious, and racial and gender differences are private and not the concern of public institutions. From a Difference-Blind Liberal perspective the 1976 Religious Exemption was unjust. Those in favour of rule and exemption approach argued that Difference-Blind Liberalism is itself flawed as it can create inequality in i...

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...and rarely complete process. By denying an individual some aspect of a culture or cultural tradition they were raised in would leave an individual feeling lost or adrift and have a damaging effect on them as they are unable to live as they choose (Reading 3.1).

Since Difference-Blind Liberalism ignores cultural differences it risks destroying cultural traditions and resources, which are fundamental to an individual’s autonomy (Pike, 2008 p.114). By denying Sikh males their right to religious observance by wearing turbans whilst on Motorcycles the original 1972 Act it hindered their autonomy by prohibiting full expression of their cultural and religious practices.

Therefore, liberal philosophers should support cultural exemptions that support the autonomy of an individual and should be in favour of the Religious Exemption clause applied in 1976(Pike, 2008 p.116).
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