Martyrs, Minorities, Faith and Fidelity:
Exploring ‘Loyalty’ in Christianity and Islam

Professor Mona Siddiqui

Lesson #2 — Western Europe and the Challenges of Liberalism: Legal Pluralism and Competing Loyalties

January 25, 2022

Summary: How much diversity is possible within a single community or society? In this lesson, Prof. Siddiqui considers the relationships between ‘liberalism’ and ‘religious exceptionalism’ in Europe. One of the goals of liberal democracies is to protect the individual rights and religious freedoms of all citizens. However, religious pluralism and exceptionalism – the idea that people sometimes should be exempt from certain laws that contradict their religious beliefs – is forcing European nations to reflect on their cultural heritage and openness to minority groups. Recent court cases highlight these tensions.

Recommended readings:

Hovey, Craig. “Liberalism and Democracy.” Chapter. In The Cambridge Companion to Christian Political Theology, edited by Craig Hovey and Elizabeth Phillips, 197–217. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
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Additional court cases and documents cited in this lesson:

  1. Assemblée Nationale, Rapport d’information au nom de la mission d’information sur la pratique du port du voile intégral sur le territoire national, Jan. 26, 2010 [a.k.a. “The Gerin Report”]. Read the full text (in French), or highlights and summary of the report (in English) by the Library of Congress. 
  2. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruling in Centraal Israëlitisch Consistorie van België and Others[ritual slaughter case].
  3. Supreme Court of the UK ruling in Lee v. Ashers Baking Company Ltd and others [the so-called ‘gay cake’ case].

Reflection and Discussion Questions:

  1. In which ways is your own community, city, or country diverse? Have you experienced or observed any tensions or conflicts involving the beliefs, practices, or identities of a minority religious or ethnic group?
  2. Consider the example of banning burqas or other clothing that is intended (for religious reasons) to cover a woman’s face. In your opinion, do such bans protect or violate women’s equality and dignity? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think that all societies should protect religious freedom? Should governments have authority to pass laws that impose certain values and beliefs on religious (or non-religious) minorities?