Religious conscience and the law probed by new publication

By staff writers
November 3, 2011

A new publication, launched by a former Bishop of Oxford and others, examines religious and ethical components to conscientious objection.

Right to Object? Conscientious Objection and Religious Conviction asks a variety of questions: Is equality law oppressive or vital to protect liberty? Should there be legal exemptions for religious groups – and are there justifications for exemptions without religion? If burqas are permitted in the workplace, why not bikinis? Is conscientious objection an absolute right?

The publication, produced by the British Humanist Association (BHA), will be launched at the Westminster parliament on Thursday 3 November 2011.

Speakers at the launch include Lord Harries of Pentregarth, peer and former Anglican Bishop of Oxford; Professor Richard Norman, Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Kent; Dr Alan Haworth, Senior Research Fellow, Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute, and David Pollock, President of the European Humanist Federation.

"The concept of conscientious objection acquires its problematic character from the conflict between two powerful, but diametrically opposing, moral requirements. One is the requirement to obey the law; the other, the requirement to follow the dictates of one’s own conscience," says the pamphlet.

The new publication from Humanist Philosophers (formerly the Humanist Philosophers Group) looks to philosophy and ethics to explore matters including liberty, equality, rights and religious conviction, and applies those to contemporary examples of religious, moral and conscientious objections.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: "Tensions between the law and private conscience have existed for as long as the law has, but recently they have been thrown into new relief by high-profile cases of the interaction between religious belief and equality law."

He continued: "We’ve been working with the Humanist Philosophers, legal experts, medical ethicists and others to tease out some of the more subtle details of the issues, including whether the concept of conscientious objection should be extended to issues other than abortion, IVF or warfare, whether there are different rules for different cultures or beliefs when it comes to moral objections, and what we need to do to move the conversation on from here.

"Publishing Right to Object? is the culmination of many months collaborative work but it is just the start of [a] much bigger body of work for the BHA, as we make our contribution to public debate in this area over the coming months and years," says Mr Copson.


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