The furore that followed the publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses has provided a graphic illustration of the conflicts that may still arise in societies characterized by diverse religious beliefs. This article examines how far the rules governing a plural society should require its members to defer to beliefs that they themselves do not share. In particular, it examines whether a principle of ‘respect for beliefs’ can provide adequate reason for limiting freedom of expression. A strong version of the principle, which would limit substantive criticism of beliefs, is found untenable. A weaker version of the principle, which would concern itself not with the matter but with the manner in which others' beliefs are treated, has greater plausibility and moral appeal. That also, however, proves too hazardous and indeterminate a basis for setting legal limits to freedom of expression.
* Department of Politics, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.