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'How should a liberal democracy react to conscientious objection claims?'


Thursday, February 11, 2021, 14:00 - 18:15




Free online event: booking essential

Four panel sessions of an informed debate on conscientious objection from legal, philosophical, theological and religious perspectives, and finally a discussion on how legislators and governments in liberal democracies should react to claims of conscience.

    Certificates of attendance for Law Society of Ireland—Continuing Professional Development Scheme will be provided, as follows:

    • CPD Category:   General CPD—legal or general education/training relevant to the practice of a solicitor which is designed to improve the solicitor’s professional knowledge, skills and abilities
    • CPD Delivery:    eLearning/conference
    • CPD Hours:       Up to four hours based on attendance

    Please ensure your name is input correctly on Zoom as this will be used as proof of attendance for CPD hours, thank you. Enquiries to

    14:00 Welcome and Opening  

    14:05 Panel One - Concepts of Conscience will set the context for the following panel discussions with presentations and discussions centring on the philosophical framework within which we discuss conscientious objection. The speakers will consider the concept of conscience, the idea of freedom of conscience, and the concept of conscientious objection, compared, for example, to civil disobedience, and address the question of who can have a conscience—is it individuals only or also corporate bodies?

    ChairProfessor Bert Gordijn, Dublin City University


    15:05 Panel Two - Conscience in Legal Perspective: Challenges and Controversies will consider the legal reaction to and treatment of conscientious objections claims, including human rights-based claims in healthcare, in the provision of services for same-sex marriage, and in resistance to authoritarian regimes, focusing in particular on such issues as the systemic effects on third parties of such conscience claims and the expanded meaning of ‘complicity’ in such contexts.

    Chair: Professor David Smith, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences


    16:10 Panel Three - Theological and Religious Perspectives on Conscience will present select religious and theological conceptions of conscience. The speakers will examine the role of conscientious objection within those traditions, exploring the questions of freedom of religion and freedom within religion. They will discuss a range of issues where individuals feel constrained by faith and conscience to resist, for example, the refusal to bear arms and conscientious objection within medicine.

    Chair: Dr Mary McAleese, Professor Of Children, Law and Religion, University of Glasgow


    17:15 Panel Four - Reacting to Conscience Claims in the Public Square  will discuss how legislators and governments in liberal democracies should react to claims of conscience. Speakers will address questions such as: Do republican political traditions have particular difficulty in accommodating claims of conscience, given the importance such traditions place on providing reasons for actions that impact the public sphere, and submitting these reasons to some form of public assessment?

    Chair: Mr Bryan Dobson, RTÉ


    18:15  Closing

    Registration is free but booking is essential.

    The event will be recorded but audience members will not be visible in the recording.

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