Respecting Citizens, Protecting Capabilities: the Role of the State in a Liberal Society


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Virginia Tech


The free exercise of religion as a basic human right is considered essential by those who are concerned about protecting and maintaining each person?s capability to live a good life.

Unfortunately, in protecting this right the fundamental rights of women are often violated or overlooked. In order to grant religious freedom, liberal states often permit discriminatory and oppressive practices.

Martha Nussbaum maintains that a balance must be struck between the protection of individual rights and the protection of religious freedom. She suggests the liberal state should not take a stand on disputed non-political issues concerning the good. The state should adopt political liberalism, thereby refraining from espousing religious or other ?comprehensive? views such as the view that men and women are innate moral equals. By doing so, Nussbaum says the political liberal state shows full respect for its citizens, and protects their ability to lead a good life.

This thesis presents the argument that the liberal state need not, and should not, go as far as political liberalism in order to protect and show full respect for its citizens. Although the state should not pressure or force religious groups to change their doctrines to fall in line with liberal principles, the state may assert the truth of some non-political liberal values that are essential to maintaining the liberal political system. Political liberalism ties the hands of the liberal state, leaving it handicapped in its ability to protect individual rights, especially the rights of women and minorities.



women's rights, religious freedom, political liberalism, human rights, capabilities approach, Nussbaum