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Durham University

Durham Law School

Staff profile

Publication details for Professor Ian Leigh

Leigh, Ian (2018). The Legal Recognition of Freedom of Conscience as Conscientious Objection: Familiar Problems and New Lessons. In Research Handbook on Law and Religion. Ahdar, Rex J. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing. 378-396.

Author(s) from Durham


This chapter examines the recognition of freedom of conscience in international human law. Through the progressive recognition of the right of conscientious objection to military service, international tribunals have grappled with questions regarding the treatment of beliefs about the sanctity of life and of countervailing societal interests. By contrast, the recognition of conscience of medical personnel relating to healthcare decisions, such as provision of abortion or contraception, is at an earlier stage of development, with a number of important unresolved questions. These concern whether conscience is better protected as a freestanding right or a subset of religion and belief, questions of complicity and the proximity of conscience and action, whether the right is absolute or limited, and whether public or professional duty and conscience are mutually exclusive. The way that they are determined will be a significant marker of the limits of equality, tolerance and dissent in liberal societies.