Religious Freedom in the Liberal State.

Author:Rasor, Paul
Position:Book review
 
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Religious Freedom in the Liberal State. By Rex Ahdar and Ian Leigh. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005. 410 pp. $125.00.

Rex Ahdar and Ian Leigh claim that religious freedom is "under increasing pressure" in liberal democracies. In Part I of this ambitious and challenging book, they argue that liberalism fails to provide an adequate conceptual framework for protecting religious freedom, and they propose an alternative theoretical groundling based on Christian theological principles. The liberal commitment to neutrality, for example, obscures the fact that the liberal state increasingly asserts its own vision of the good life while insisting that citizens not press their own contrary views too far. In this and other ways, liberalism "squeez[es] religious practice and thought into a liberal mould that is alien to adherents (p. 64).

Part II offers a wide-ranging examination of the legal and constitutional issues relating to the protection and limits of religious freedom in liberal states. The authors analyze a variety of models for structuring the relationship between religion and the state, noting that religious freedom may be adequately protected wathin several structures, including establishment "in its contemporary, milder form" (p. 127). They favor arrangements that 'recognize a measure of interaction and cooperation between government and religious communities" (p. 97).

The authors propose a promising "ad-hoc balancing approach" to the critical task of defining the limits of religious freedom. Once a claimant establishes a rima facie infringement, the state must justify the relevant law or policy by demonstrating the important objective it serves and "the unavailability of a less restrictive means" for achieving it. In each ease the court should ask: Would the granting of a religious exemption undermine the objective of the law?" (p. 188). This approach has obvious similarities to the compelling interest test abandoned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990). The authors discuss Smith and related American developments briefly elsewhere in the book, but it would have been helpful if they had suggested how their proposal might relate to pre-Smith First Amendment jurisprudence.

In Part III, the authors address religious freedom dilemmas in several contemporary contexts: family and childrearing, education, medical treatment, employment, religious group autonomy and protection for religious and...

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