Van der Burg on Neutrality

Wibren Van der Burg (Erasmus University Rotterdam) has posted a short piece, “Inclusive Neutrality in the Classroom.”  It will not come as a surprise that theories of neutrality as applied to religious liberty issues are popular today, both for academics and courts.  Van der Burg has an interesting discussion of “exclusive” as compared with “inclusive” neutrality, the latter of which breaks down into “proportional” and “compensatory” subdivisions.  His is also a seemingly highly conextual approach to neutrality.  The abstract is below.  — MOD

Both in law and in political philosophy, the idea of a neutral state is an important principle. It is rarely noticed, however, that there are important differences in how the principle is interpreted in each of the two disciplines. I argue that legal doctrines on neutrality can be clarified and improved with the help of philosophical insights (and vice versa). I make three interrelated points, first about the domain of application of neutrality, second about the various versions of neutrality and finally about the implications for public education. First, state neutrality should be broadly interpreted to refer not only to religion and belief, but to views of the good life, which also includes culture- and identity-connected lifestyles. Second, there are two basic versions of state neutrality: inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive neutrality can be subdivided into proportional and compensatory neutrality. Third, there are good reasons why, in general, public education should be inclusive. Public education should only be based on exclusive neutrality for issues where inclusive neutrality is not possible, for example with regard to religious symbols in the classroom. The Dutch ideal of active pluralism for public education should be interpreted broadly, including religion, belief, cultural diversity and diversity with regard to sexual orientation. It is a public duty as well as a right of children to be educated in light of this broad interpretation of neutrality; the ideal of active pluralism should be guiding in education about different religions, cultures and life styles in a neutral way. This ideal also holds for publicly funded private schools.

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