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Religious freedom: toleration or discrimination?

Monday 25 March @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Violet Laidlaw Room, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, Chrystal Macmillan Building, 15a George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LD

Living Freedom ‘University Salons’ are for all students (and academics) keen to explore and debate ideas. A short talk is followed by plenty of time for questions and discussion.



Religious Freedom: Toleration or Discrimination?

Questions related to expression of religious beliefs are throwing up many tricky questions related to freedom and equality. In the UK, Christian street preachers have been arrested, a Muslim pupil is taking a school to court over a prayer ban and there are worries that protection zones around abortion clinics turn silent prayer into a thought crime. In Finland, a prominent MP who publicly quoted biblical scripture is being prosecuted for hate speech and there are concerns that Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act will also threaten freedom of conscience and religious expression.

However, many worry that it is religious practice that impinges on our freedoms and rights. Religious conservatives in America have made it easier for hospitals and medics to object to providing birth control and abortions on the grounds of conscience. A Supreme Court ruling in Alabama that embryos used for IVF are legally children may create restrictions on fertility treatment. After outrage over Qur’an burnings in European countries such as Denmark, bans on desecration of religious texts create worries about the return of blasphemy laws.

In pluralistic societies, how do we reconcile the right of faith communities to exercise their beliefs with our established wider freedoms? Are street preaching or prayers in school rights we should all enjoy? Should holy books be protected by law? Is firing a midwife who refuses to perform abortions an act of justice or discrimination? Or both? Where practical conflicts arise, for example, with anti-discrimination equality laws or medical service provision, how should we respond?

Ultimately, have we gone too far in protecting the faithful or too far in neglecting them?


Dolan Cummings novelist and essayist; author, Taking Conscience Seriously and The Pictish Princess: ..and other stories from before there was a Scotland; substack, L’esprit de l’escalier

Alastair Donald convenor, Living Freedom




Living Freedom and Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom

Living Freedom University Salons are supported by the Ian Mactaggart Programme, established to foster a culture of open debate, independent thinking and free expression among young people in the UK, especially students. It is administered by the Free Speech Union.

Image: adapted from Michael Coglan, Creative Commons


Violet Laidlaw Room, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh