Volume 107, Issue 4
  • ISSN: 0002-5275
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1244



A policy of ‘refusing and referring’ allows conscientious objectors to refrain from the action they object to, as long as they can refer to a willing colleague. This policy is often presented as a pragmatic solution to the problem of conscientious objection in the workplace. In this paper, I reflect on the merits and the shortcomings of this strategy. I will analyse the current situation in Belgium and in the Netherlands (section 2), where ‘refusal and referral’ is a preferred way to deal with conscientious objections. This context serves as a touchstone for arguments about conscientious objection in the workplace. Contrary to those authors that dismiss it as merely pragmatic, I argue that referral responds to value conflicts that are unavoidable in pluralistic liberal democracies (section 3). And contrary to those who criticize it as a tactical, non-moral compromise, I argue in section 4 that it is in some cases pervaded by moral values like respect for others. Finally, in section 5 I show that referral does not necessarily clash with professional values, but that it can be problematic when it confirms patterns of discrimination.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): conscientious objection; conscientious refusal; freedom of conscience; referral
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