There is no unrestricted right to believe. 

Despite beliefs to the contrary there is no unrestricted right to believe. There is not now nor has there ever been such a right.  There is no right to an unalterable belief and no right to blind faith effectively shielded from all attempts to change those beliefs or even to relieve the believer of some beliefs altogether.  There are no cloaks of immunity from social criticism, challenges from others or efforts of society  to remove beliefs through direct or indirect means.

 The “belief” that people are entitled to believe whatever they wish to believe no matter what and no matter where (hereinafter referred to as the “unrestricted right”)  is indeed popular and often vigorously supported and disseminated and promulgated in various guises including the “ I am entitled to my opinion”.  It is also an idea that as a principle is left not clearly explicated.  If there is such a “right” to believe then exactly what sort of a right is it that it is regularly denied both by totalitarian societies, religiously organized theocracies and by nearly every society in their public school classrooms.  Such an unrestricted right is undermined or denied to some extent by every society on the planet. Through direct or indirect measures and at times using force or through their requirements for formal education and their support for educational institutions societies will deny such an unrestricted right for humans to hold beliefs that are not supported by the ruling regimes or in democratic and liberal states beliefs that are not supported by evidence and for which there is evidence that falsifies beliefs.


In theocracies beliefs not in accord with the religious dogma, ideology and doctrines will not be tolerated nor will habits of mind that do not support blind faith and unquestioning acceptance of the dicta of authorities.  Such states will have their inquisitions.   In non-religious but totalitarian societies there are the purges and there are the Gulags and asylums for minds not holding beliefs in accord with the party line and official declarations of the authorities.  In pluralistic, democratic or tolerant societies there are the requirements for formal education including curricula that promote respect and tolerance of others and the values of pluralism and democracy.  Those “official” values are promoted as well as the beliefs that they are of highest priority.  


In most societies beliefs that are not supported by evidence and for which there is evidence that falsifies beliefs about systems of knowledge(Mathematics, Geometry) and the meaning of words (semantics) and logic are not countenanced and are challenged and professional edcuators have it as part of their professional duties to dislodge such beliefs that are not supported by evidence and for which there is evidence that falsifies beliefs.


Just what sort of a right would the unrestricted right to believe be anyway?


If it is a right then what sort of right would it be?  There are rights people have as legal entitlements or socially recognized privileges.  They exist in a variety of forms.  There are rights to act in certain ways and rights to possess things and rights to have or be given certain basic necessities of life.  These rights relate to the duties of others to respect or provide for whatever it is that people have a right about.  For the right to act in some way say as with voting others must refrain from interfering with anyone who chooses to vote.  For the right to possess such as with a tv or auto others must not remove that property (theft) from another who has elected to possess it in a lawful manner through legitimate acquisition (purchase, trade, barter). For a right to have a necessity such as food or shelter others provide for it via a number of social programs and agencies.  With the purported unrestricted right to believe there are no such correlated positions or actions others must assume or perform.   To the contrary there is ample evidence that it is not the case at all that beliefs are treated as something which people may enact or hold in an unrestricted manner.



Evidence of no unrestricted right to believe



Beliefs that are not tolerated and are challenged and attempts made to displace them.


  • I believe that Buffalo is the capital of New York State .
  • I believe that 5 plus 7 are 9.
  • I believe that triangles have 4 angles.
  • I believe that the earth is flat.
  • I believe that stars are holes in spheres that surround the earth I believe that the American Revolutionary war took place 100 years ago.
  • I believe that “bachelors” are pieces of furniture used for sitting at when dining.




These beliefs are regularly challenged in classrooms and no one appears to maintain that the people (usually but not always very young people) who hold these beliefs have no entitlement or privilege to them so that others must refrain from attempt to remove them from the list of ideas affirmed by those who hold them.  While some may think that this is so because these beliefs listed immediately above  are silly or ridiculous or extreme the principle that there is no unrestricted right to belief that is to be acknowledged in a classroom is apparently not acknowledged or realized.


There are beliefs with which people enter classrooms that are equally false and for much the same reasons that are challenged each day by educators in an effort to have those they teach alter their beliefs about matters large and small, quite important and fundamental as well as incidental.


  • I believe that there are 60 states.
  • I believe that there are 50 members of the US Senate.
  • I believe that there are 20 members of the US Supreme Court.
  • I believe that if a>b and b>c then a is sometimes less than c.
  • I believe that the square root of 16 is 3



Again there is little controversy over attempts to disabuse people of these beliefs.  Such acts that are designed to assault and dislodge these beliefs are denials of their purported “right” of people to believe whatever they wish to believe.


It is important that this evidence that runs counter to the popular belief in an unrestricted right to believe be acknowledged for what it is and that the purported principle of the unrestricted right be explicitly denied both in principle and in wider practice. As more and more knowledge is gained by humans that runs counter to some popular and comforting beliefs.  Nevertheless with such knowledge and the habits of mind that lead to the acquisition of knowledge society advances in its abilities to resolve conflicts and strengthen social cohesion and make progress in defeating diseases and other problems threatening to the social welfare.  This society can do if it makes use of that knowledge and has a populace that accepts the knowledge available; and the method(s) for creating that knowledge.


Some operating with the popular belief in an unrestricted right to believe will invoke in some manner a “cloak of immunity” for their beliefs.  They most often do so whenever there is a claim that they find discomforting or challenging to what they already believe or wish to believe or that serve their interests and purposes.  It does not matter what the evidence may be (empirical, semantic, systemic(Mathematics, Geometry) or logical) they will reject or proceed in avoidance or disregard for what the evidence supports.  This behavior is thought to be acceptable as it results from their invocation of the unrestricted right.  The tolerance of or support for this behavior undermines the ability of society to maintain and further social cohesion and material progress.  

Despite overwhelming counter evidence indicating that the following beliefs are not supported by evidence there are those who hold these beliefs and too often these beliefs are not challenged formally within the educational process or are thought to be in some manner protected from the educational process due to the mistaken notion that there is an unrestricted right to believe.


  • I believe that a mind is separate from and can operate without a brain.
  • I believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old.
  • I believe that human beings are completely free of the influences of their prior experiences and their environment in their decision making.
  • I believe that science does not provide knowledge of the physical universe.
  • I believe that because science does not answer all questions that science can answer no questions.
  • I believe that because humans do not know everything that humans then know nothing.
  • I believe that because humans do not have total truth that humans then have no truth.
  • I believe that because humans do not have objective knowledge of everything that humans then have no objective knowledge.
  • I believe that because humans make mistakes then humans never get anything correct. 


  • I believe that I am entitled to believe whatever I want to believe.
  • I believe that whatever I believe to be true is true.
  • I believe that whatever I believe to be true is true, at least for me.
  • I believe that whatever I believe to be real is real.
  • I believe that whatever I believe to be real is real, at least for me.
  • I believe that whatever I believe to be true is true and there is no need for me to consider evidence or the logical relation of what I believe to other things that I believe.

While educators will too often accept or tolerate (minimally accept) these claims, when they do so they as a whole undermine education itself rendering it unnecessary and even superfluous or harmful to those who would have society accept their claim of an unrestricted right to believe and that such a right exists not only for all those who would live amidst others in some form of social life but also for students as well. Most students enter classrooms accepting that educators will attempt to provide them with beliefs and will attempt to correct or remove beliefs that are not deemed as “correct” in the curriculum of study. Many students will resist the efforts of educators to do likewise with beliefs that they cherish or feel most comfortable with holding or those that they hold with people with whom they wish to identify or with whom they have shared much in common. If in defense of their resistance to changing their beliefs or refusal to alter their beliefs they offer the claim that they have a “right” to believe whatever they so desire reason can offer evidence and logic to counter that claim. Many students in defense of their beliefs that come under challenge by educators will reject reason and counter evidence. It is one of the principle tasks of education to develop such habits of mind in students that they are willing to examine their beliefs subject to reason and evidence and that they are willing to settle their beliefs or hold them based on best available reasons and evidence and continually subject them to critical review in the light of reason and ever increasing evidence. There is an ethic to changing habits of mind that educators need to acknowledge ( see my “Ethics of Changing Habits of Mind but there is nonetheless the duty of educators to so develop reasoning, critical thinking and a healthy skepticism and doubt as proper counters to appeals to blind faith and unquestioning allegiance to holding beliefs that are popular, common or promoted as being “correct” due to the proclamation of political authority or due to popularity or any other foundation that is set against what reason and evidence support. The claim of an unrestricted right to believe is a claim that is set against reason and evidence and so too is the habit of mind that holds such claims to be true or that leads to the establishment and holding of such beliefs. Neither individuals nor societies are best served by such habits of mind that are uncritical and in denial of evidence and reason.