A new book by University of Chicago Law School professor Brian Leiter entitled Why Tolerate Religion? questions the practice of establishing religious liberty as a right:
For example, he says a boy might be permitted to carry a dagger to school as part of his Sikh religion, but the same dagger would not be allowed if it were part of a family tradition.
Without having read Brian Leiter’s book (see a review by Robert Merrihew Adams here), it would be unfair to evaluate his assertions, however in the example above, “might be permitted” is the key phrase. It is not always the case that a Sikh student who has been initiated as a Khalsa Sikh would be allowed to carry a kirpan at school, and often when this exemption is made, it involves significant compromise. It is also debatable whether the freedom to practice religion is as problematic or as out-of-place in contemporary society as he may be suggesting. Certainly, members of various religions are not granted carte blanche to practice their faiths in every scenario or circumstance.
Notwithstanding the above, it appears that Brian Leiter is raising interesting and provocative questions about why religion-based objections are granted legitimacy over non-religious ones, particularly, as he suggests, in the “West”. Perhaps where the debate may lay is in what we define as “religion”.
Coincidentally, a serendipitous rebuttal may be found in a recent unrelated event hosted by Oklahoma University, in which Rajdeep Singh discussed the pursuit of religious liberty in his work as the Director of Law and Policy with the Sikh Coalition:
“There are places in this country where it could potentially be illegal to be a Sikh, Muslim or Jew, and as an American, that’s disheartening.”
I would imagine that it would be interesting to put these two men in a room and listen to their conversation about religious freedom in America.