Exemptions for Religion or Conscience under the Canopy of the Rule of Law

In: Journal of Law, Religion and State
Rex Ahdar Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Otago; Adjunct Professor, School of Law, University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney

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This essay endeavours to restate the case for the right to freedom of conscience and religion. Specifically, it seeks to make the case for exemptions from the law of the land for religious believers and similarly-situated citizens who hold sincere conscientious beliefs. The rule of law is not something to be ignored, and carving out exemptions for conscience has been criticized as unfair, anomalous, potentially open-ended in scope, and difficult to administer. I attempt to assuage these legitimate concerns by underscoring the importance of the dignity of the individual and the virtue of protecting religious minorities (and dissenters of all stripes), who challenge the conventions of the day. If the default position is the rule of law, believers face an uphill task. Ultimately, only a truly liberal polity can offer protection to what, in every age, is a fragile liberty.

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