Religious freedom, to me, is the right to act as you please in regards to following your own personal religious beliefs. Many liberals would argue that it is necessary to have religious freedom to function in a liberal society. However, within certain religions, not only does it dictate how the religious follower should act, but how the religious follower should respond to someone else breaking that religions laws, such as adultery or homosexuality. The resulting question raised is: to what extent may someone act out their religion and have the right to religious freedom, even if it removes the freedom of another citizen?
Throughout history, the state and church have acted as one. This usually means that there is one main religion within a society, and all the citizens of the society must follow that religion. However, in Modern Europe, countries tend to have a more multicultural attitude, with citizens following a vast array of religions. Hence, the need for the church and state to be separate, due to conflicting religions wishing to dictate different areas of the law. Therefore, laws must be created in such a way that it does not conflict, such as creating laws that allow the freedom to practice ones religion without persecution. There is still the problem of more extreme religions being unable to fully practice their religion, for instance if they require human sacrifice etc. Suggesting that it may be impossible for religious freedom and liberal society to fully coexist. The closest that may be reached is it citizens are given the right to religious freedom, as long as it does not infringe on the rights to other people. Such as a Catholic nurse having the right to refuse to perform abortions, but, not having the right to punish those who choose to seek abortions elsewhere. I personally believe that the Christian couple who chose not to bake a cake for a same sex couple where fully within their rights, as this would in the long run not affect the same sex couple in a negative manor. Yet, if the Christian in question had been a doctor and refused to offer life saving treatment, it would have been unethical, as it may have resulted in the harm of another person. Arguably, this is not fully religious freedom, as in certain situations people will be forced to act against their religious beliefs but it is a close as we can come in a modern society.
A liberal society is built upon a number of fundamental freedoms, one of which is freedom of religion. A society that does not allow religious freedom is not a liberal one. Liberal societies also have secular governments, which is supposed to ensure that laws are not passed on a religious basis, meaning some of the prejudices some religions promote (which would encroach on equality) cannot be legislated upon. Therefore they cannot be contradictory, they are symbiotic.
That leaves the question about whether we should limit religious freedom in order to protect ourselves from incidents of extremism. I find it hard to believe that preventing disillusioned young Muslims from being radicalized by repressing their right to practice their religion is a sensible strategy. Personal prejudices about restricting the freedoms of others cannot be defeated by restricting more freedom. For example, the number of people who oppose gay marriage has declined after it was passed into law and they realized that the sky didn’t fall in. Tackling prejudice through integration, not marginalization.
Limiting religious freedom is not the answer to restricting extremism and neither is abandoning our liberal democracy. That begs the question what is the answer? God knows…
I am a Christian – albeit a very liberal one. I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, though I disregard the Old Testament and most church dogma. One of the founding principles of Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics is: ‘The ruling norm of a Christian decision is love’ and this principle is the one that I believe nicely sums up my beliefs.
Jesus taught only love, it was his disciples, the Old Testament and the church that are responsible for teachings that persecute women, gays and others. Jesus was also big on free will – he did not pressure others to follow him, rather they did so because they believed in him. But how does this relate to Liberal society?
Well in creating a Liberal society we are fulfilling teachings. A society where all are equal, treated with the inherent respect that all human beings deserve, and with freedom to choose other religious faiths and lifestyles is the kind of society that Jesus would have aimed to create. For me, pursuing a Liberal society and following the teachings of Christ are one and the same – not contradictory at all.
But my beliefs are unfortunately not a majority, even amongst Christians. Religious doctrine that promotes the persecution of others is of course incompatible with a liberal society. In his life Jesus had to deal with those who looked to persecute others, but he did not seek to do so with force. He simply called out those in the wrong, and in many cases those who looked to hate (e.g. Saint Paul) became his closest disciples. This is also very much what a Liberal society looks to do – to turn those who would persecute others away from hatred.
To conclude, the teachings of Jesus are the perfect guide to the creation of Liberal society- far from contradicting it, they enhance it.
Religious freedoms are a growing concern of many because of the ongoing terror attacks launched at the Western way of life. Islamic extremism demands that women wear a burka, homosexuals are killed, and that legal punishment must follow breaching of religious doctrine. In many cases, these forms of extremism don’t affect Europe, but with increasing Muslim immigration we are seeing fears begin to rise among the populations of these countries. In France, after the recent Nice attack, over half of the French population said they would sacrifice their personal freedoms for greater security. This poll represents a paralyzing fear, expressed in these liberal societies, that religious freedoms of others may sacrifice the safety of the communities in which people live. So, even if religion it’s self is not a threat to liberal freedoms, people’s reaction to the perceived danger is and they will use this to push for measures that sacrifice their liberal society.
Whether it be immense pressure to ban the burka in France that was ultimately successful, a move to treat suspected terrorists more harshly taking their rights before they’ve even committed a crime and when often they are innocent, or increased surveillance around Europe that increasingly breaches our right to privacy, liberal values of freedoms for all with minimal state intervention is being sacrificed willingly. People will always be threatened by what seems ‘different’ to them, and currently it is religious freedom that is creating this mindset. This level of perceived threat in a liberal democracy such as those found around modern Europe will always demand a response by government, and that will diminish the liberality of our society. So, at least in the current climate, religious freedom and liberal society are contradictory, but not for the reasons you may think.