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Cooperation, Religious Freedom, and the Liberal State


Religious freedom is often listed among the core freedoms that characterize the liberal state—along with freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of the person. But it may seem that what is valuable about religion, from a liberal point of view, would be sufficiently protected by these other core freedoms. Does religious freedom have a special role to play in a liberal state?

Traditionally, liberal theorists have thought that religious freedom required maintaining separation between the state and religion. But problems arise when separation is applied strictly to every type of religion-state interaction, without attention to the underlying values at stake. This dissertation defends a conception of religious freedom that makes room for cooperation and compromise, with the aim of creating mutually beneficial relationships between religion and the state. Separation is an important component of this picture, but not its guiding principle.

This dissertation discusses two areas in which strict adherence to religion-state separation may lead to problematic outcomes. First, strict adherence to separation lends support to an all-or- nothing approach to religious accommodation. But compromise can often be more valuable for both religious persons and the state, especially when the meaning or purpose of the religious activity is consistent with the purpose of the conflicting law. In such cases, compromise may generate creative solutions to conflicts and may promote mutual understanding and respect between religious persons and their fellow citizens. This compromise-based approach to accommodation is limited, however, by the principle that accommodation should not be used as a form of political protest.

Second, strict adherence to separation supports protecting the autonomy of religious institutions to oversee their internal own affairs. But the state must also protect the rights and interests of the members of religious institutions. As such, the state must ensure that religious institutions are voluntarily associations, whose members have both a right and a genuine opportunity to exit the association. As one example, the state should generally not enforce religious arbitration agreements against members of religious institutions, even when they have voluntarily agreed to them.

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