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The legal recognition of freedom of conscience as conscientious objection : familiar problems and new lessons.

Leigh, Ian (2018) 'The legal recognition of freedom of conscience as conscientious objection : familiar problems and new lessons.', in Research handbook on law and religion. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 378-396.


This chapter examines the recognition of freedom of conscience in international human law. Through the progressive recognition of the right of conscientious objection to military service, international tribunals have grappled with questions regarding the treatment of beliefs about the sanctity of life and of countervailing societal interests. By contrast, the recognition of conscience of medical personnel relating to healthcare decisions, such as provision of abortion or contraception, is at an earlier stage of development, with a number of important unresolved questions. These concern whether conscience is better protected as a freestanding right or a subset of religion and belief, questions of complicity and the proximity of conscience and action, whether the right is absolute or limited, and whether public or professional duty and conscience are mutually exclusive. The way that they are determined will be a significant marker of the limits of equality, tolerance and dissent in liberal societies.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Publisher statement:This is a draft chapter. The final version is available in Research Handbook on Law and Religion edited by Rex Ahdar, published in 2018, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd The material cannot be used for any other purpose without further permission of the publisher, and is for private use only.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:No date available
Date of first online publication:28 September 2018
Date first made open access:No date available

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