Friday, 30 January 2015

The Made-up Issue of Religious Freedom

Today a National Post editorial informs us of a “A win for religious freedom.’ The headline refers to a recent decision by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to allow graduates of the Trinity Western University  to practice in that province. Trinity Western University — a private Christian institution in British Columbia — forbids its students to practice ‘sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.’
The notion of religious freedom in North America is a made up issue. We have religious freedom in North America, and have had it for many, many years. Religion is a private matter — between an individual and his or her God (or Gods). Religious freedom is an aspect of freedom of speech. It refers to the right of individuals to hold any beliefs they wish, to publish those beliefs, to speak about those beliefs publicly, and to worship at the alter of their choice. 
That’s it. 
That’s religious freedom — and yes, we do have it in North America.
The religious right in North America, however, has, for the last few years, been desperately attempting to make ‘religious freedom’ an issue — by pretending that we don’t have it. They are referring to instances when religious expression begins to enter the corporate, legal and/or government sphere.
The matter is not a sticky one, it is not complicated or contentious, as North America’s religious  fundamentalists would have us believe. Of course a person should have the right to wear a cross or a hijab in public. However if someone is operating a power tool in their job, they shouldn’t be allowed to wear a cross that could get caught in it. (Duh!) And yes, someone testifying on the witness stand should be required to show their face, as that is part of evaluating the honest of their testimony. 
This is not difficult to understand, is it? It’s quite clear when freedom of speech (or freedom of religion as the fundamentalists would have it) begins to cross over into activities that interfere with other people’s rights, freedoms and the rule of law. 
But ‘born again’ Christians won’t have it that way.
They would have us believe that not allowing a religious university to require it’s students to be chaste is an abridgement of that university’s freedom. No. This is merely requiring that a university not force its religious views on the general population.
Hey — I thought universities were about freedom of thought and exploration of ideas anyway. Not the propagation of one idea.
This brings us to another issue that springs from the Trinity Western University controversy. Some think that the university’s rules against ‘sexual intimacy’ are homophobic. Probably. But it’s  much more upsetting that these rules are anti-sexual.We want everyone to get married and have children and go to church these days. But whatever happened to sex? Whatever happened to sexual liberation? Why would anybody in their right mind want to prevent college age young people from being sexually intimate? Do you have any idea how anti-human that is? How such ideas destroy people’s lives and loves and sexual empowerment?
Human beings are sexual beings. And they need to have sex. Especially when they are young and in the prime of life. 
The folks at Trinity Western University are, in many ways,  a bewildering bunch. But what they are doing has nothing to do with religious freedom.
It has everything, however, to do with oppression in the name of religion.