equality and conscience: ethics and the provision of public services

In Cécile Laborde & Aurélia Bardon (eds.), Religion in Liberal Political Philosophy. New York, NY: oxford university press (2016)
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We live with the legacy of injustice, political as well as personal. Even if our governments are now democratically elected and governed, our societies are scarred by forms of power and privilege accrued from a time in which people’s race, sex, class and religion were grounds for denying them a role in government, or in the selection of those who governed them. What does that past imply for the treatment of religion in democratic states? The problem is particularly pressing once one accepts that religious freedom is not just a matter of individuals’ freedom of conscience and worship, but of people’s claims to associate with others through institutions whose powers, status and commitment to equality are very different (Laborde, 2015). If this means that churches pose some of the same philosophical and practical problems as families, from a democratic perspective, the fact that churches have no obvious point or justification, beyond being the repository of the claims to conscience of their members, appears to distinguish them from the former. In principle, this should make it easier to think about the claims of government, as compared to those of churches. In practice, however, it may simply bring into sharper focus philosophical and political challenges to equality that contemporary democracies now face.

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Annabelle Lever
SciencesPo, Paris


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