A Two-Level Justification for Religious Toleration




Webber, Jeremy

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Journal of Indian Law and Society


Many contemporary theories of freedom of religion presume that the freedom must be based on the society’s special valuing of religious belief. But that is not so. Religious freedom is most important, indeed is most required, when the beliefs that are protected are considered false and perhaps even harmful. This paper presents an alternative two-level understanding of freedom of religion. The first and most rudimentary level emphasizes the mere toleration of religious belief, based on the benefits of living in peaceable community with people of different beliefs. The second and more demanding level emphasizes the affirmative value of inter-religious dialogue. This second level, while it is indeed worth cultivating, is nevertheless more difficult to sustain precisely because it requires that non-believers attach affirmative value to religious belief. Both levels are therefore essential to a complete theory of religious freedom: the first to provide a robust baseline of religious toleration sufficient to protect the virtue of living together in peace against the consequences of religious antipathy; and the second to encourage the substantial benefits of inter-religious learning, fragile though they may be.




Webber, J. (2012). A two-level justification for religious toleration. Journal of Indian Law and Society, 4(Winter), 25-53.