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Copyright (c) 2012 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties

Article: Regulating Religious Coercion

August, 2012

Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

8 Stan. J.C.R. & C.L. 215


Rex Ahdar+


To ask, "What is religious coercion?" is a demanding question, akin to asking, "What is religious freedom?" This is because religious coercion is the antithesis of religious freedom. 3 Defining precisely what is "coercion" is an exercise that continues to tax philosophers. 4 To take but one definition, "coercion occurs when one person threatens to visit some evil or unwanted consequence on another unless that other does or refrains from doing some act in accordance with the coercer's demands." 5 Rather than laboriously work through the subject again from scratch, 6 it will suffice for present purposes to posit an initial working definition of religious coercion as: the application of, or threat of, force by the coercer to ensure someone, the coerced person (or coercee), engages in (or refrains from engaging in) a particular religious 7 practice, observance, ceremony or ritual.

Notice in this definition, the identification of the coercer is left open. Definitions of religious coercion typically talk about compulsion, force or power exercised by the state or by others. 8 There is no doubt that religious coercion may be exerted by non-state actors - employers, unions, churches, clubs, neighbors, parents, relatives, friends 9 - upon other citizens or groups of citizens. If one believes that authentic faith must be free and voluntary, 10 then it may seem myopic to focus upon government coercion in religious matters and not coercion by non-government actors. This is a fair criticism. However, constitutional bills ...
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