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← Does Religious Liberty Equal Freedom to Discriminate?

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by Stephen of Wimbledon

In response to Comment 7 by Russell Blackford.

Hi Russell,

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.

I agree that manipulation is involved - modern organised religions are kicking in the traces because, as Lawrence notes, they are losing their grip on power.

But do the machinations of the priesthoods (redefining Religious Freedom in order to re-amplify their political power) really amount to being unconscionable?

It seems to me that it is important for us to recognise the fight we're in - this is political.

You are right to point out that freedom of religion means:

... the state will not persecute you for your religion or impose a religion on you ...

It's the use of the word persecute that goes to the heart of the matter. Hostility and ill-treatment can be quite objective descriptions of wrong-doing but, like taking offense, claiming persecution is something we could all do if we put our minds to it - such is the flexibility of these terms.

Indeed, it seems to me that we often recognise that repression is as much in the mind of the 'victim' as it is evidence based.

Which brings me, neatly, to your closing statement:

Properly understood, freedom of religion is a good thing, and it is compatible with other liberal freedoms such as freedom of speech.

I don't know what the word liberal gives us in that statement, to me human rights transcend factional labels - but moving swiftly on.

The whole point of a political debate is that rights are often difficult to harmonise and some debate is therefore required to find some compromise in specific instances. Your chosen sample - religion and free speech - are a case in point.

Is it conscionable to allow that religious freedom can mean the religious have the right to express themselves through marriage, while simultaneously denying that right to gay folk?

The religious are claiming that it is because marriage is, in some way they find hard to define, "special".

Setting aside the inability of the religious to express themselves when describing marriage, they are having no such difficulty redefining Religious Freedom to mean the Right to Discriminate. They would like us to interpret this as the right to recognise difference but, as Lawrence notes, it actually means the Right to Act with Prejudice:

One might rationally argue that individual human beings should be free choose what moral behavior they approve of, and which they don’t, subject to the constraints of the law. But when organized religious groups gain power of any form, power over the state, power over women, or power over children, the results inevitably lead to restrictions on liberty based on discrimination.

When you note that:

... manipulation of the idea can give it a bad name

... it seems to me that isn't helpful. We have to recognise that all ideas are the subject of manipulation - especially in politics.

The best way to manage this debate is to reflect back the reality of the demands they are making: A naked play for more political power.

In this fight your are bang on with one idea: We all need to point out to others that the religious are attempting to redefine the ages old definition of Religious Freedom and we need to call the religious to account for it - get them to explain their new definition.


Tue, 29 May 2012 13:43:37 UTC | #944217