Belief-Based Exemptions: Are Religious Beliefs Special?


  • This article was made possible by the support of a University of Otago Summer Scholarship. I would also like to thank Dr Vicki Spencer for her encouragement and for helpful feedback on earlier drafts.


Religious beliefs are often singled out for special treatment in secular liberal societies. Yet if a legal exemption is granted for a belief with a religious foundation, the question arises whether a similar, non-religious moral belief must also be granted an exemption. I argue that common reasons for favoring religious over non-religious beliefs fail to provide a convincing moral case for drawing a distinction of this nature. I focus on arguments concerning the role of religious beliefs in constituting an individual's identity and the transcendental nature of religion, which lead me to consider in the final section the role of choice in religious belief.