Is freedom of conscience/religion self-refuting?


An argument I’ve heard a lot against freedom of conscience/religion in regards to things like same-sex marriage is that what if somebody’s religion tells them to surpress freedom of religion? I by no means by into the propaganda that the only reason why we oppose same-sex marriage is that we are just bigots and we just use religion as our get out of jail free card, but what about somebody using religion as a get out of jail free card in another, hypothetical context?

I’ve thought about this a bit when looking into the role of women in Islam. If a more radical Muslim were to say that you shouldn’t punish him for beating his wife because he suspected her of rebelling against him, because that’s the way he interprets his religion, how would you respond?


As with all freedoms, the freedom of conscience and the freedom of religion are not infinite. For example, freedom of speech does not cover defamation. We have to acknowledge that there must be some limits placed upon religious expression. Conversely, we must also recognize that since religious beliefs are central to many people’s lives, that freedom should only be abrogated at great need.

In the case you have given — a Muslim man beating his wife under the guise of freedom of religion — we recognize that his wife’s right to safety is important enough to restrict his religious expression. This can’t be said about many of the cases surrounding religious freedom that are currently being discussed in american society. In the case of the Christian bakers, or the case of the HHS mandate, we find that we are violating an individual’s religious freedoms for relatively trivial matters. In the former case, the worst that said couple would have to do is find a new baker. I’m sure they were upset with the baker, and I’m sure that finding another baker would have been an inconvenience, but I’m not sure that the need to have people free from becoming upset or from having to find another wedding baker justifies violating a person’s religious freedom. Similarly, the consequences of having Catholic organization not have to pay for contraceptives are relatively minor. Individuals who choose to work for those organizations do will not have their contraceptives covered. I’m not sure that the added expense and inconvenience justifies violating a person’s deeply held belief.

In other words, we accept that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion have limitations, but we must also acknowledge that those limitations should be applied sparingly since the religion is such an integral part of some people’s lives.


I don’t think freedom of religion is self-refuting because it should not be taken to imply that all religious claims should be respected. Catholics have to make a case that (for example) religious exemptions are reasonable. They don’t have to prove that abortion or same-sex marriage is immoral to the satisfaction of a skeptic, but they do have to show that they are not on the level of using religion as a justification for beating a woman or for opposing interracial marriage.

However, I think Catholics have done that, for the cases are relevantly disanalogous (ie. The gender of people in a marriage is prima facie relevant to that marriage, whereas race is not. There are terms for “husband” and “wife” corresponding to the gender of the spouses, for example. To drop that requirement is to change the structure of marriage in a fundamental way, and that should be admitted regardless of whether one regards such a change as good or bad. But regardless of people’s attitudes toward interracial marriages, which historically have been unjust, race has never played any structural role in marriage. Two white people could be married and two Asians could be married. The institution in each case was the same; there was no “white marriage” and “Asian marriage.”) The average Catholic (say a baker who does not want to bake cakes because he cannot participate in same-sex “marriages”) does not have to offer philosophical arguments, however; the philosophical arguments of others are sufficient.

(This is all in respect of whether someone can claim a conscientious exemption on the grounds of religion or conscience. These aren’t full arguments against same-sex marriage, though.)


When in Rome, do as the Romans. :shrug:

If he was living in America when he beat his wife, I would ask him to look at the laws of the land. The laws of the land forbid spousal cruelty and abuse. So then I would ask him to change his interpretation of his religion. In other words, he has the religious right to beat his wife, but does he have the religious obligation to beat her, or can he forgive her and set aside the so-called religious right?

That way he satisfies both the religious and the civil law.


What if a liberal said we should do the same thing with same-sex marriage/contraception/abortion?


Here is an article you might be interested in, CatholicSoxFan.


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