This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comment

← Does Religious Liberty Equal Freedom to Discriminate?

Russell Blackford's Avatar Jump to comment 7 by Russell Blackford

Freedom of religion basically means that the state will not persecute you for your religion or impose a religion on you. Instead the state should simply make decisions to protect and promote the secular welfare of its citizens (i.e., their interests in this-worldly things).

It can get a little bit more complicated, but that's basically it. Sometimes a decision made on a secular basis will offend the religious or in some way constrain them, but they can't claim persecution if the state was simply acting in a religion-blind way, doing something that it would have done anyway, on secular grounds, even if the religion concerned did not exist.

Much confusion is caused when definitions of freedom of religion are used that do not start from this core meaning.

No one is being persecuted for their religion if the state, for secular reasons to do with its citizens' this-worldly welfare, makes a decision to recognise same-sex marriages in the same way as it recognises opposite-sex marriages. Nor is any religion being imposed on anyone if the state simply does this for reasons relating to the worldly interests of the people concerned. Thus, freedom of religion doesn't come into it.

However, if the state refuses to recognise same-sex marriage for a religious reason ... well, freedom of religion certainly does come into it. Public policy is then being used to impose a religious viewpoint.

At the risk of being accused of spamming, I do my best to sort all this out in my book FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE. In any event, the idea of freedom of religion (the state will not persecute you for your religion or impose an alien religion on you) is manipulated unconscionably in these debates. Properly understood, freedom of religion is a good thing, and it is compatible with other liberal freedoms such as freedom of speech (the state won't try to control what you say and how you express yourself). However, manipulation of the idea can give it a bad name.

Tue, 29 May 2012 01:41:37 UTC | #944124