2004
Volume 109, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 0002-5275
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1244

Abstract

Abstract*

Liberal states tend to tolerate certain conscientious objectors, but not others. They tolerate doctors who conscientiously refuse to perform abortions, but do not extend the same toleration to civil servants who conscientiously refuse to register same-sex marriages. In this article, I analyse the attitude of liberal states to different claims of conscience in terms of vertical toleration, and its limits. Contrary to a prevailing political theoretical argument, I submit that there is space for vertical toleration – that is, toleration by the state – in the contemporary liberal state. Yet, this space is limited. It only opens up when individuals’ practices contravene core liberal values. Whenever that is not the case, as with conscientious objection to military service, the lens of vertical toleration is not the appropriate one. But in relation to other claims of conscience, such as of doctors against abortion, the attitude of liberal states be described in terms of vertical toleration. The practice finally reveals that certain conscientious objectors, particularly civil servants who refuse to register same-sex marriages, are not tolerated by the liberal state. Their practices exceed the limits of vertical toleration. This article explains why the prevailing practice in liberal states, as described, gets it right.

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2017-08-02
2021-11-29
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