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Why Tolerate Religion? [Kindle Edition]

Brian Leiter
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews


"A model of clarity and rigour and at points strikingly original, this is a book that anyone who thinks seriously about religion, ethics and politics will benefit from reading."--John Gray, New Statesman

"A slim volume, deeply conversant with the literature in law and philosophy, and by turns bold, bracing and bruising, Why Tolerate Religion? should command the attention of anyone interested in the place of faith in the public arena."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Jerusalem Post

"Although this is a rather bold and provocative thesis, Leiter's approach is highly nuanced and painstakingly thorough, as he patiently walks readers through each definition, consideration, and possible objection. The overall effect is a very impressively argued case."--Library Journal

"Why Tolerate Religion? is a closely argued and thought-provoking examination of questions that will only become more important in our increasingly multicultural world."--Adam Kirsch, Barnes & Noble Review

"Overall, Leiter's judicious and penetrating volume is an excellent example of how philosophy can be brought to bear on practical issues of the day."--Alex Miller, Morning Star

"Why Tolerate Religion? is a readable book that exposes several tenuous assumptions underlying the predominant justifications for religious exemptions. At the same time, it provides a fresh and intuitive framework for analyzing conscience-based objections to facially neutral laws that should appeal to legal practitioners, jurists, and philosophers alike."--Harvard Law Review

"Students and scholars likely will be citing Leiter's clear and powerful arguments for many years."--Choice

"[E]legant and accessible . . . straightforward and clear. Readers will find the book engaging and thought-provoking; yet Leiter's discussion is nonetheless philosophically sophisticated, incorporating nuanced considerations from legal theory, meta-ethics, and political philosophy. Most importantly, Leiter's book provides a sound basis for pursuing these crucial matters further."--Scott F Aikin, Philosophers' Magazine

"Leiter's book is . . . very readable and it avoids technical jargon as much as possible. It works very well as a challenge to those who are sympathetic to conceding some exemptions from generally applicable laws because of religious beliefs, because the burden of justifying such exemptions is placed squarely on those who propose them."--Desmond M. Clarke, Jurisprudence

"[C]ompelling read . . . makes for a fresh and lively contribution to this ongoing debate."--Journal of Applied Philosophy

"Why Tolerate Religion? has a certain beauty in its brevity, austerity and aspiration to analytical rigor."--Russell Blackford, Free Inquiry

From the Inside Flap

"Think you understand religious toleration? Think again. Brian Leiter's bracing argument moves deftly from the classics of political philosophy to the riddles of modern case law, demolishing old nostrums and sowing fresh insights with each step. Every reader will learn something from this remarkable book, and, beginning now, every serious scholar of religious toleration will have to contend with Leiter's bold claims."--Christopher L. Eisgruber, Princeton University

"This is a provocative and bracing essay, one that is bound to stimulate much discussion."--Richard Kraut, Northwestern University

"The place of religion in the public arena, and the kind of protection and even respect it should be entitled to from the state, is a topic of significant contemporary interest. Leiter writes about it with wit and good humor. He is even bruising on occasion. But there can be no doubting his capacity as a scholar, his intellectual energy, or his ability to persuade."--Timothy Macklem, King's College London

"Leiter argues that there are no principled, moral reasons for singling out religion as the subject of toleration. He has cut through a dense philosophical and legal literature, focused on a question of great importance, and developed a provocative, sharp, and yet nuanced case. Anyone concerned with this topic will have to read and take seriously the arguments presented in this very well-written and accessible book."--Micah J. Schwartzman, University of Virginia

Product Details

  • File Size: 303 KB
  • Print Length: 207 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0691153612
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; New Preface edition (October 28, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0091XBTTI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #383,957 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rigorous January 27, 2013
This concise (5 short chapters), very well written, and unusually well argued book is devoted to addressing the major question: "what are the principled reasons why the state should exempt religious claims of conscience from the burden of its laws?" While the focus of this book is on the legal status of religious claims to receive preferential treatment from the state, Leiter's arguments have significant implications for the general deference that religious claims receive in American life (and in that of many other democracies). Leiter starts with the basics; why should religious claims be tolerated? In his first chapter, he grounds "principled toleration" - the tolerance of ideas and some actions that a majority would find objectionable - in both deontological and utilitarian traditions. This is a thoughtful, parallel application of Rawls' Original Position and ensuing arguments, and Mill's utilitarianism. Through both the Rawlsian and Millian analyses, Leiter establishes that religion deserves principled toleration. A key point, however, is that these chains of reasoning indicate that liberty of conscience in general deserves principled toleration, religion here appears only as a sub-species of claims of conscience. After establishing that religious claims deserve principled toleration, subject to important side-constraints, Leiter moves on to the question of whether there is anything distinctive about religion that would demand preferential treatment compared to other claims of liberty of conscience.

This further discussion demands an understanding of what constitutes religion. In his 2nd and very interesting chapter, Leiter suggests a thoughtful definition of religion.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provacative and Timely January 21, 2013
Tihs past summer, I felt irritation and dismay at the Catholic Bishops' bandying the term "religious liberty" in an effort to block religiously-affiliated insitutions from including contraception in their employee-earned health insurance benefits, regardless of whether the employees subscribed to the Church's dictates or not. I, and many secularists, surmised this as not religious liberty that they were fighting for, but preservation of power and privilege. Brian Leiter's new book, Why Tolerate Religion, helped me to put it all in perspective.

I heard of the book from the New Books in Philosophy podcast. I found it intriguing, so I decided to check it out from the academic libary and give it a read. The author explains in about 130 pages what I have been struggling to find answers to in one weighty tome after another. The answer to the eponymous question of the book is that we ought to tolerate religion for the same reasons that we tolerate non-religion- all citizens have a right to express their claims of conscience. Leiter goes into Rawlsian original position and Millian Utilitarian arguments for claims of conscience in a just society, which I will not reproduce here. Further, the State has a right to promote a vision of the good which will likely come into the conflict with the claims of some citizens, and if there are not good reasons for accepting non-religious claims of conscience to that vision of the good (i.e., David Duke claims black people are criminals, so I don't want to serve them in my restaurant), then there are not good reasons for accepting religious claims (i.e., I don't want to serve gay people because it goes against my religious beliefs).
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge: Why Tolerate Religion? March 13, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Scholarly and stimulating treatment of the topic. I mean to publish a lengthy review as soon as possible. It was helpful to me in commenting on proposed objectives of a new body dedicated to human rights and secularism.
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0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting June 23, 2013
By Yanis
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I think this book gives some worth noticing thoughts which would be good to consider both religious as well as secular conviction adherents.
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