I have to admit that I have a massive throbbing hate-on (read it again) for the phrase “freedom of religion”. It is an over-used canard that really has no useful value. The protection of a right to freedom of conscience, along with similar protections for speech, ensures that any religious belief or practice is protected. Carving out a specific protection for religion is redundant.
What it is a reflection of, as far as I can tell, is a cultural obsession with the totems and taboos of worshipping various failures of rational thought. We fetishize our ignorance, call it “religion” or “faith”, and then incessantly remind everyone how important and central it is to the human experience, to the point where people don’t know how you could possibly live a life without it. So of course it has to have special protection. After all, if we don’t protect something so essential to human functioning, how could we have any rights at all?
And yet, we continue to do it. We enshrine it in our laws, we plaster it on bumper stickers, we even create entire government ministries to oversee it. An office, by the way, overseen by a person who is capable of saying stuff like this in public:
In too many countries, the right to believe in and practise one’s faith in peace and security is still measured in blood spilled and lives lost. This is not an abstract debate. Blasphemy laws target religious minorities.
And then saying this:
Nothing is easy. And you really only get one chance to get it right. We know that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.
Oh really, Mr. Baird. Thanks for pointing that out. Let’s look at a couple of blasphemy law cases then, shall we?
The actors and creative team behind a play that depicts Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay face charges of blasphemy in Greece, according to court officials.
The production of Corpus Christi, a 1997 play by U.S. playwright Terrence McNally, was greeted with protests by priests and the right-wing Golden Dawn movement during its run in Athens in October. The Greek-language staging was eventually cancelled earlier this month.
Greek Orthodox Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus launched a lawsuit against the production and called for charges of “insulting religion” and “malicious blasphemy.”
Because, and I think the whole international community can agree, there’s nothing more important happening in Greece right now than cracking down on people who insult religion. Even though the play is about political corruption. None of that in Greece though…
Police in India have arrested a woman they say criticised on Facebook the shutdown of the city of Mumbai after the death of politician Bal Thackeray.
A woman friend who “liked” the comment was also arrested, they said.
The women, accused of “hurting religious sentiments”, were released on bail after appearing in court in the town of Palghar, police told the BBC.
Yes, it would be just awful if people were allowed to express dissatisfaction at things that are tangentially related to deeply held religious beliefs! Don’t you get how deeply they’re held, you guys? Deeply! Like… really deep!
It seems to me that religion isn’t exactly under existential threat here. If anything, it’s got quite a bit of muscle to flex. And while the supposed goal of this “Office of Religious Freedom” is supposed to be about protecting minority groups, Minister John Baird expresses this ‘freedom’ in explicitly faith-y terms. Not a freedom to believe and practice according to the dictates of one’s own conscience, but a freedom to “draw upon one’s faith to contribute to the greater good of society—something greater than oneself.”
I’m, it hardly needs to be said, skeptical.
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