Why Tolerate Religion? The Book

Why Tolerate ReligionBack in May of 2006, Brian Leiter posted a draft paper “Why Tolerate Religion?” in which he argued that there is no credible case for tolerating “religion qua religion.” At the time, I reported on it and quoted Mark Twain on religious toleration. It appears that Leiter has expanded this paper into a book length treatment of the same title.
For those who don’t know him, Brian Leiter is the Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Naturalizing Jurisprudence and Nietzsche on Morality and the coeditor of the annual Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law. He is also the publisher of an often consulted and often complained about ranking of university departments offering MAs or PhDs in Philosophy – the Philosophical Gourmet Report.

Here’s Princeton University Press’ spiel on Leiter’s book.

This provocative book addresses one of the most enduring puzzles in political philosophy and constitutional theory–why is religion singled out for preferential treatment in both law and public discourse? Why, for example, can a religious soup kitchen get an exemption from zoning laws in order to expand its facilities to better serve the needy, while a secular soup kitchen with the same goal cannot? Why is a Sikh boy permitted to wear his ceremonial dagger to school while any other boy could be expelled for packing a knife? Why are religious obligations that conflict with the law accorded special toleration while other obligations of conscience are not?
In Why Tolerate Religion?, Brian Leiter argues that the reasons have nothing to do with religion, and that Western democracies are wrong to single out religious liberty for special legal protections. He offers new insights into what makes a claim of conscience distinctively “religious,” and draws on a wealth of examples from America, Europe, and elsewhere to highlight the important issues at stake. With philosophical acuity, legal insight, and wry humor, Leiter shows why our reasons for tolerating religion are not specific to religion but apply to all claims of conscience, and why a government committed to liberty of conscience is not required by the principle of toleration to grant exemptions to laws that promote the general welfare.

Something else for my reading list! I sure hope that there is a correlation between the length of one’s reading list and one’s longevity.

One thought on “Why Tolerate Religion? The Book”

  1. Judging (only) by the spiel you quoted the actual issue adressed seems to be not “Why Tolerate Religion?” but “Why accord unique priviledges to religion?” as such it seems to be a particularly American issue. In NZ there is no chance that a religious soup kitchen would be excused compliance in ways that a secular (I assume charitable not commercial because that WOULD be different) one would not.
    For all your vaunted separation of church and state the US is funny about religion.

Comments are closed.