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Religious Freedom in the Liberal State$
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Rex Ahdar and Ian Leigh

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199606474

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199606474.001.0001

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Liberal Perspectives

Liberal Perspectives

(p.51) 3Liberal Perspectives
Religious Freedom in the Liberal State

Rex Ahdar

Ian Leigh

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses liberal political thought and its understanding and treatment of religion. Section II begins by briefly outlining the nature and character of liberalism. The premise is that liberalism is the principal philosophical foundation for law in modern liberal democracy. Our contemporary notions of ‘religious freedom’ are ones that have been indubitably shaped by liberal attitudes to religion, faith communities, and the call of conscience. The chapter then turns to the liberal claim of neutrality between competing conceptions of the good life. Is liberalism as impartial as it purports to be? What does state neutrality towards religion in practice actually require? This chapter also examines the privatization of religious (and other) beliefs in a liberal polity, and considers a leading liberal litmus test for public policy — John Rawls' concept of ‘public reason’. Section III analyses the principal secular liberal justifications for religious freedom. It argues that unless we know why religious liberty is worth protecting, our ability to deal with new and increasingly insistent faith-based claims for legal recognition and protection will be hampered.

Keywords:   liberalism, religious freedom, individualism, rationalism, neutrality, public reason, privatization, intermediate institutions, mediating institutions, religious liberty

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