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Austin Cline

Religious Schools & Religious Pluralism

By April 28, 2013

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Prayer at School
Prayer at School
Photo: John Chillingworth/Getty

Religious pluralism requires accepting the presence and status of all sorts of religious doctrines, including those which reject or oppose the status quo. What happens, though, when those doctrines are opposed to liberty and democracy - and are taught in religious schools? Can the liberal principle of pluralism or tolerance accept this?

Religious pluralism has been cultivated for the purpose of religious tolerance - for the purpose of tolerating different religious viewpoints and different religions. Not all religions, though, value religious tolerance. Indeed, appreciating religious tolerance is contrary to most traditional religions and is something that has to be learned.

The Economist discussed a couple of years ago the existence of Muslim in schools in Britain that teach doctrines which are at odds with fundamental premises of religious pluralism itself:

The real argument, though, is about principle, not numbers. On the one hand stand some parents, Muslim and Christian alike, who think, among other things, that evolution is a fallacy and that homosexuality is a wicked perversion. They want schools for their children that uphold these beliefs, and feel they are facing a "liberal inquisition" in Mr Mears's words, or an "imposed secular viewpoint", according to Sylvia Baker of the Christian Schools' Trust. On the other hand stands an educational establishment which thought that diversity and tolerance were synonymous, and finds they're not.

Pluralism has to accept the presence of anti-pluralist attitudes, but that really only works so long as the attitudes are in a very small minority. As soon as they gain real traction, pluralism itself is threatened and could end. Pluralism, then, has to have limits of some sort if it is going to survive in any form. But how should those limits be conceived? How can they be enforced?

April 29, 2013 at 6:37 pm
(1) Timothy Call says:

I’m not so sure we should tolerate all ideas. Ideas stand and fall on their own merits. No idea is special or above criticism, no matter how devoutly someone holds it. All people should be respected and their human rights to hold and express ideas should not be hindered as long as those expressions do not hinder the rights of others. People have human rights, ideas do not.

May 14, 2013 at 4:52 pm
(2) Jeanne says:

Science stands on evidence and is willing to change as new evidence comes to light. I find it far more arrogant to be so sure of one’s beliefs that those beliefs will not change in the face of evidence. In other words, “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.”

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