Law and Philosophy

, Volume 34, Issue 6, pp 581–600 | Cite as

Religion in the Law: The Disaggregation Approach

  • Cécile Laborde
Open Access


Should religion be singled out in the law? This Article evaluates two influential theories of freedom of religion in political theory, before introducing an alternative one. The first approach, the Substitution approach, argues that freedom of religion can be adequately expressed by a substitute category: typically, freedom of conscience. The second, the Proxy approach, argues that the notion of religion should be upheld in the law, albeit as a proxy for a range of different goods. After showing that neither approach adequately meets crucial desiderata for an inclusive theory of religious freedom, the Article sets out the Disaggregation approach and defends against the alternatives.


Religious Activity Religious Freedom Substitution Strategy Inclusive Theory Religious Liberty 
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Earlier versions of this text were presented in Ghent (Workshop ‘Law’s Imagining of Religion’, 23 September 2014), Princeton (Conference ‘Religions, Rights and Institutions’, 23–24 November 2014), Oxford (Oxford Political Thought conference, 8 January 2015) and London (RAPT Conference ‘Religion in Liberal Political Philosophy’, University College London, 10–12 June 2015). I am grateful to the organisers of, and participants in, these events for helpful feedback. For written comments, I am indebted to Aurélia Bardon, François Boucher, Emanuela Ceva, Chris Eisgruber, Lois Lee, Nick Martin, James Nickel, Lawrence Sager, Winnifred Sullivan, Jean-Yves Pranchère, Onora O’Neil, Enzo Rossi, Hans Ingvar Roth, and (especially) Andrew Koppelman and Daniel Statman. Research for this paper was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) Grant 283867, ‘Is Religion Special? Reformulating Secularism and Religion in Contemporary Political Theory’.

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© The Author(s) 2015

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public PolicyUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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