Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Dangers of Religious Freedom

I always read the National Post
 It’s important to know your enemy.
And yesterday they featured a trio of articles on the subject religious freedom -- certainly a hot topic these days, especially for the religious right.
            Yes, a great deal of ink is being spilled over the vital question: how do we balance human rights and religious freedom? What if a lesbian wants a man's haircut and a Muslim barber refuses to give her one? This ‘crucial’ conflict sure sets tongues a-flappin.’
            The latest bunch of highly controversial issues gracing the front page of the National Post include: a Muslim woman fighting for the right to where her niqab in court, a Montreal woman halted from holding mass in a rented room because of an obscure bylaw, and Canadian Jehovah’s witnesses fighting for their right to abstain from giving children blood transfusions. These three burning news items (no other paper covered them -- with the notable exception of the niqab controversy) were on the front page of yesterday’s National Post. Last week the National Post was agog over the possible abolition of ‘Merry Christmas signs’ on Saskatoon buses. All of this comes hot on the heels of last summer’s spirited debate over whether or not birth control should be offered as part of ‘Obamacare.’
            In each of these instances ‘freedom of religion’ is pitted against government interference. The implication: we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, because our governments – and much of the populace -- have become Christianphobic (I’ll admit it, I am!). As Mike Huckabee recently observed about the massacre at Sandy Hook – why did Adam Lanza kill those 20 children? Because “God has been removed from our schools.”
            Freedom of religion has morphed into something scary. The American first amendment “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion.” So it looks like the founding American fathers wanted to make sure folks could worship the God(s) of their choice and speak freely about their religious beliefs. Sure, makes sense to me. But ‘impeding the free exercise of religion’ sure is a sticky wicket. Is my freedom to exercise my religion being impeded when the government demands that I remove my niqab for a trial? Or when the government uses my tax dollars to pay for abortions?
            I would argue: absolutely not.
Regardless of what the American founding fathers meant (who cares about those slave-holding patriarchal puritans, anyway?) the only religious rights that count are the right to worship, and the right to speak openly about your faith. But no one has the ‘right’ to demand that the government pass laws that take into account their religious beliefs, and no one has a right to disobey laws because they go against their ‘deeply held religious convictions.’
This may sound brutal. But the alternative is worse. What if your ‘religious conviction’ is that 50% of all female babies should be killed at birth? What if your ‘religious conviction’ is that all people of colour should be crucified and burned? If the government is to going to allow those who demand religious freedom to tamper with the law then there’s no turning back.  Because remember, one person’s crazy idea is another person’s ‘deeply held belief.’
It’s pretty simple: the North American religious right is championing the cause of religious freedom in order to kill the separation between church and state and bring back state sponsored Christianity. If you doubt this, look back at the three articles in that recent National Post. Interestingly, the paper comes out firmly against the issue of women being allowed to wear a niqab in court, but firmly on the side of the woman who is told she can’t hold mass in a rented room. In North American religious freedom means the freedom of Christians to run the government, and our lives.
            I’ve always believed that people should keep their religion to themselves. After all, isn’t it all about what goes on between you and your God? What business is it of anyone else’s?
            If I had my way, religion would be practiced in private, and sex would be practiced in public.
            I think it would make life healthier and happier for us all.