Are certain implications of religious freedom at odds with the principle of equality before the law for everyone?
February 23, 2012 4:36 PM Subscribe
Recently I entered a discussion about the following scenario: If a college student at a state university says they can't take a test on Friday, because of their religious beliefs, should their professor be required to honor that and reschedule the test for that student? I am talking about some sort of a formal requirement, as opposed to the professor being an accommodating sport. Read below for details.
posted by josefk to religion & philosophy (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't even know where the premise came from, I think a friend of mine may have mentioned a student who couldn't take a test on Friday. I don't remember whether it was a particular Friday or every Friday. I don't think this makes that big of a difference to the general question.
My thoughts about the question were that a formal requirement would interfere with the professor's ability to conduct their class, and that it should be up to them whether to honor the request. And that this should be treated as any other request, independent of it having to do with the student's religion. Not being a religious person myself, I have an intellectual understanding that religious beliefs are very important to some people. However, in this particular case, I don't think the student could make a strong argument, because they already make an exception by going to class on Friday. To me, the difference between going to class and taking a test is arbitrary, and so, it seems like the student's religious freedom isn't sacrificed if there is no formal rule about the matter.
I discussed this with someone, let's call them A, who thought not requiring the professor to make allowances would be infringing on the student's freedom of religion. And that institutions should require their employees to make *reasonable* effort to respect such requests. For example, it would be unreasonable to not be able to have tests on all Fridays, but it would be reasonable to require the professor to make allowances for a few days during the semester.
During the discussion, one particular point made by A was that if the law would treat everyone equally that could clash with religious freedom for some. And that not allowing someone such allowances at a state school would mean that they would very likely have to go to a private school where this is handled more to their liking. And that this is discrimination and a slippery slope that can lead to oppressing the religious.
My thoughts on the matter are that even if a religious person goes to a state school and their professor doesn't honor a request, that would be rare, it will not make a critical difference to the student's education, and that over their career they wouldn't be harmed. This is more of an empirical question I suppose.
More generally, I thought that this clashes with the principle of treating all people equally before the law. I can see A's point, but I still think it clashes with that principle.
I don't have much of a legal background, so I would like to see what the mainstream thought about this kind of issue is. I am particularly interested in the US, but responses from other countries are welcome.