Defending the rights of theists does not equal agreeing with their beliefs

Some of you seemed surprised that I defended Park51, more infamously known as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” after my visit there. You commented that Islam, on average, is more violent and oppressive of women. You were shocked that I saw the latter first hand – by being told I’d be segregated at dinner and must dress modestly – and yet I still supported Park51. It seemed ironic to you that someone who’s 15 minutes of fame is based on contesting the standards of modest dress would be okay with all of this. You claimed that defending Muslims’ right to freedom of religion implicitly agrees with their beliefs.

For those of you who are surprised, you don’t know me very well.

What makes inalienable rights like freedom of speech and religion work is when they’re truly inalienable. Once you start making judgement calls on who really gets to say something or what you’re allowed to believe, everyone is in trouble. It doesn’t matter if something is offensive or stupid. I will defend the freedom of speech of conservatives, Neo-Nazis, and misogynists as much as it may personally pain me to do so. And I may be an atheist, but if Muslims, Mormons, or Jehova’s Witnesses are having their religious freedom taken away, I’ll be the first to defend them.

Why? It’s simple. Who gets to make the judgment calls on what’s offensive or inappropriate?What happens when one of my beliefs is being censored because popular vote deems it too controversial? Just imagine if atheism was put up to a vote in the United States. Would we still be able to have atheist books or organizations? Hopefully you see why freedom of speech and religion need to be so adamantly defended.

But again, defense does not automatically equal agreement. Nor does defense automatically equal respect. Muslims can build their community centers and mosques, but I’ll still vocally say that their beliefs are wrong. Allah almost certainly does not exist. Islam is, on average, more violent than other current religions – it’s like getting in a time machine and seeing Christianity in the middle ages. Islam is one of the most oppressive religions toward women, and hijabs and burkas are tools of that oppression.

But Muslims should be able to build mosques and wear burkas if they want, because censorship is never the answer. If we want to defend the rights of some minorities, we must defend the rights of all minorities. And if you’re truly concerned with making Islam more progressive or having more Muslims become less religious, taking away their rights isn’t exactly the best way to open up communication.

Trust me, as an atheist, I’d be very happy to see fewer mosques, churches, and temples springing up around the country… If it was because less people feel the need for organized religion and superstitious thinking, not because we fearmongered them out of organizing.