This introductory chapter sets out the book's focus, namely the question of why the state should have to tolerate exemptions from generally applicable laws when they conflict with religious obligations but not with any other equally serious obligations of conscience. It illustrates this issue by describing two cases. The first involves a Sikh boy who is allowed to wear a kirpan, a dagger or sword (a symbol of their religious devotion) to school. The second involves a rural boy, who is not a Sikh and is not allowed to bring a knife to school despite the fact that doing so is a long-standing tradition in his community. There is no Western democracy, at present, in which the boy in our second scenario has prevailed or would prevail in a challenge to a general prohibition on the carrying of weapons in the school. Were he a Sikh he would stand a good chance of winning.
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