Freedom of Religion = Freedom from Religion

“Freedom of religion isn’t freedom from religion.” We hear this statement repeated so often by the religious right types that it has almost become a mantra for them. But here’s a story that illustrates very well why you cannot have the former if you don’t have the latter.

In India, a minority religion called Jainism has an annual celebration called Paryushana that lasts 8-10 days. It’s similar to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, a time when the adherents of the religion fast and meditate to become more virtuous. But the Supreme Court of India has ordered all of the slaughterhouses and meat shops to not sell any meat during that period out of “respect” — whatever the hell that could mean in this context — for the Jains’ beliefs.

The order may apply only to a particular region of India, but the article doesn’t make that clear. But it doesn’t really matter. This is not freedom of religion, it is the imposition of someone else’s religion on those who do not share it. It isn’t “respect” to force non-Jains to comply with the requirements of a religion they do not believe in, it is religious authoritarianism. The Jains do, of course, have every right to participate in their religious rituals as they see fit, but they do not have any right to demand that others bow to their demands. Those who are not Jains do not have freedom of religion here if they do not have freedom from the impositions of a religion they do not belong to.

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  • flex

    What makes this even more strange is that Jains are vegetarians.

    It’s not like they only abstain from meat during Paryushana. Not eating meat is part of their religion.

  • hexidecima

    so, not selling meat does what? It seems that maybe it would only serve to keep the inept followers of one religion from breaking religous laws they evidently can’t follow on their own without some hand-holding. IF no one can have meat, then they won’t sin.

    I’m sure that Christians in the US would have an absolute fit if they were told that they had to follow another religion’s rules out of “respect”. They are of course clueless on how hypocritical their demands that everyone follows their rules are.

  • @flex #1 – I suspect that is the point: Jains are vegetarian and the Jain religion puts strong prohibitions against the taking of life. Therefore, everyone must abide by the Jain view on the sanctity of life and slaughterhouses must close for the duration.

    It is no different that Israeli laws mandating that all businesses, even those owned by Christians and Muslims, be shut down between the sunsets of Friday and Saturday.

  • NitricAcid

    It’s also no different than parts of Utah not allowing the sale of alcohol, as it’s forbidden to the Mormons.

  • rork

    Dry counties in Utah or Pennsylvania seem sorta constitutional – you can say is about religion, but that’s guessing about people’s motivation. Some folks may have other reasons.

    Laws forbidding Sunday morning sales of ethanol seem even more suspect.

    Until quite recently we (MI) had laws that forbade hunting on your friend’s land on Sundays (your friend would be opening the door to your sin it seems).

    Here’s a politeness conundrum: During Ramadan, I have visitors, and want to go and have dinner at some really authentic middle-eastern restaurant near Detroit. (Yep, around here, real men eat schawarma.) It’s horribly crowded after dark, but you (atheist) can go early and eat while your cook and servers are fasting, and perhaps thinking you are a schmuck. But it’s extra business. What to do? I’m not asking about my legal obligation. I don’t write “atheist” across my forehead on Ash wednesday, tempting as that might be.

  • rork

    I might add: every mention of Jesus, Yahweh, Mohammed, Moses, etc are insults to the religion of Trobriand islanders and new guinea highlanders and many others.

    Smoke magic woman and the red spirits will surely smite you, but let’s make a law about it instead.

  • thisisaturingtest

    Just gonna quote a little Rush here (hope I get it right this time, Ed):

    You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice

    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

    Exercising a choice not to be religious is exercising the very same freedom of religion that others exercise when they choose religion. This just seems to me so true on a basic logical level that it boggles my mind when folks deny it.

  • rork,

    from my experiences in a populous Muslim country: restaurants are happy for the business and stay open.

    Also, some Muslims (especially cultural ones) actually do eat behind people’s backs.

  • DaveL

    There’s another reason why freedom of religion must logically include freedom from religion. Otherwise, the government could arbitrarily decide what is and what is not a “real” religion and sneak religious compulsion in through the back door.

  • rork “…hunting on your friend’s land on Sundays…”

    If that isn’t a euphemism for committing adultery, it should be.

    pelamun, the Linguist of Doom “Also, some Muslims (especially cultural ones) actually do eat behind people’s backs.”

    That explains why every time I quickly turn around, the Muslims put their hands behind them and look ashamed.

  • lofgren

    That explains why every time I quickly turn around, the Muslims put their hands behind them and look ashamed.

    No, that’s because they know you well enough to make rude gestures behind your back.

  • lofgren “No, that’s because they know you well enough to make rude gestures behind your back.”

    Lies! They told me they were playing Rock-Paper-Scissors in Arabic!

  • Abby Normal

    No, that’s because they know you well enough to make rude gestures behind your back.


  • thisisaturingtest, don’t be silly. America’s founding fathers meant that we are perfectly free to worship Jeebus in any way we see fit, as long as we’re Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians. That’s why they put it right in the Constitution. … You mean they didn’t? Well, that’s what they meant to say.

  • ttch

    This ruling would likely be endorsed by the large percentage of Hindus who embrace vegetarianism, so it effectively promotes Hinduism over Islam without having to explicitly say so.

  • “Freedom of religion isn’t freedom from religion.”

    Actually that is a correct statement. Freedom of religion would allow one to practice any religion, and freedom from religion would allow one to not be required to accommodate religion in his or her life.

    The First Amendment grants both.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    The highlighted portion is the relevant part.

    The one that is not italicized grants freedom from religion.

    The one that is italicized grants freedom of religion.

    Saying that both are the same is needlessly muddling the issue, and worse, committing a serious error.

  • busterggi

    If only I had known in time to set up a chain of beef jerky franchises in India!

  • Aratina Cage

    It’s also no different than parts of Utah not allowing the sale of alcohol

    Or any of the blue laws in any state, really.

  • Artor

    You know why you should always take two Mormons with you when you go fishing? (I suppose this works for Muslims too.)

    Because if you only bring one, he’ll drink all your beer.

  • markr1957 (Patent Pending)

    Artor – that trick works for Southern Baptists too 😉

    So, does this mean we can toss people in jail for failing to talk like pirates on ITLAPD in future?

  • Jains are vegetarian and the Jain religion puts strong prohibitions against the taking of life.

    What a bunch of fucking idiots. Eating plants is just as immoral as eating any other form of life. We’re descended from a common ancestor and it’s mere sophistry to argue that “plants can’t feel it…” as if they would be totally OK with bio-slavery if they had any say in the matter. Indeed, I would argue that since plants cannot give informed consent it is less moral to eat plants than it is to eat humans.

    The only moral option for the jains is to not breed and die out so they no longer need to eat anything at all. Any jains that are actually alive, right now, should kill themselves – because killing onself implies consenting to death, which is more of a choice than they give the plants that they eat. Most people who argue in favor of vegetarianism from a perspective of moral calculus conveniently ignore that, because we’re more intelligent and arguably rational, it is only humans that can consent to be eaten and that the most moral thing vegetarians can do is to agree to eat eachother.

    See your absurd sophistries and raise you, vegetable killers!

  • jimmiraybob

    Freedom of religion.

    The underlying principle that was all the Enlightenment rage among the founding fathers was the right of individual conscience. Which, I believe, covers your basic freedom from religion.

    Or something whacky like that.

  • sc_b3852da0511075db84e787440ae4d8ec

    Hehehe…. Speaking of india, its not just this ends with jainism.

    There are whole lot of other BS are sponsored, adorned by the state for various religions.

    The Central Government every year gives money or entitlement for certain amount of seat for muslims to visit Meca, their holy place, every year. Because the govt accept the muslim demand that every muslim ought to go and visit Mecca before they die, so with govt’s socialistic policy, they issue these tickets.

    Now Hindus from all over India are also demanding same kind of BS to go visit particular holy spot in India.

    In India, they govt believes that “secularism” means, freedom of religion and freedom from religion, instead they officially means, govt includes all the religions, govt should support all the religion.

    Hey, and you know who are the looser, atheist.

    India is a Pseudo-democracy, Pseudo-secularistic country, now pseudo-socilistic and psed0-capitilistic too.

    I don’t expect it to be perfect, but, everything is not even close to minimum standard.

    Actually there are only few differences between india and middle east countries.

  • We’re descended from a common ancestor and it’s mere sophistry to argue that “plants can’t feel it…” as if they would be totally OK with bio-slavery if they had any say in the matter. Indeed, I would argue that since plants cannot give informed consent it is less moral to eat plants than it is to eat humans.

    If the humans actually do give informed consent, then I’d say it’s about equal. But the capacity to give informed consent is, funnily enough, associated with awareness, which also includes things like suffering which we tend to regard highly when considering what is ethical and what isn’t. So the fact that a plant (or a rock, to press the issue) cannot give informed consent matters little, considering that they likewise cannot suffer. Non-human animals, by contrast, can suffer plenty and yet their ability to consent is denied. So the comparison is bankrupt.

    Which is just a long way of saying…what a stupid-ass argument on your part.

  • lofgren

    The concept of “freedom from religion” as an entity distinct from “freedom of religion” is and always has been utterly meaningless. It’s gibberish to say you can’t have one without the other, because without either the other is simply incoherent. Only in a world where there was one utterly unified religion could the two ideas possibly be disentangled.

  • Nick Gotts (formerly KG)

    Which is just a long way of saying…what a stupid-ass argument on your [Marcus Ranum’s] part. – lofgren

    Yup, MR has a lot of worthwhile things to say, but from time to time comes out with a piece of ridiculous crap like this. Incidentally, it is considered an act of great virtue in Jainism to starve yourself to death.

  • Walton

    Marcus: That’s a hopelessly bad argument against vegetarianism. The difference is that non-human animals have (to varying degrees) a number of traits that plants do not: intelligence, the ability to form social bonds, and the ability to experience pain and suffering, for instance. As such, there are perfectly coherent reasons to consider it ethically problematic to kill non-human animals for food, but not to extend the same consideration to plants. To take the most obvious point, it’s beyond doubt that animal slaughter inflicts suffering on an animal, whereas there is no evidence that plants are even capable of suffering. Peter Singer’s writing on this subject is worth reading (notwithstanding that I disagree with him on many things).

    (What is an interesting discussion is where the boundary of sentience should be drawn: a pig is much more sentient than a crayfish, for example, but at what point do we start regarding an animal as sentient enough to have interests that should be protected?)

  • Walton

    As for the OP: as a militant vegetarian, I can’t get too upset about this particular prohibition. Though of course I agree with Ed as to the general principle that religious proscriptions should not be forcibly imposed on the whole of society.

  • anomaly

    I found it interesting that the opinion in this post is founded on a case author admits to know little about, relating to a society vastly different from anything author know.

    When I started to read this post I initially expected to agree with authors point of view. But after reading the entire post I found it strange that entire position was argued without interest in knowledge about how the situation came to be.

    Since I am skeptical to strong positions argued with stated lack of interest in taking an inquisitive approach, I decided to do so myself. I usually do not regard all opinions or views different from own as irrational and stupid by default, unless being stuck in a traffic that is. The easiest way to figure out why some see reason where I do not, is simply to see how they came to their conclusion. Are there factors and information that eludes my subjective perception, and could there be something I do not understand.

    The complexity of society and culture in India is beyond my comprehension, so I looked at the supreme court judgment instead of trying to draw own conclusion of historical reference as reason.

    In the appeal to the supreme court judgement on the case of Hinsa Virodhak Sangh Vs. Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat & Ors, which is the case from 2008 being referred to in this post, it is possible to find a quite extensive rational reasoning.

    I do NOT say I fully agree, and/or understand decision. I am only the acknowledging there being a more complex and surprisingly interesting aspect that one might get from the tiny internet article found on the online edition of The Times of India.

    It is worth mentioning that this decision did not come to be because of demands made by the Jain community as author falsely implies. The claim of religious authoritarianism is also refuted extensively throughout the ruling. The secular aspect is in fact something the court use to support their ruling.

    Here is a small segment for those who are interested in understanding why things are as they are, probably of no interest if you find it more appealing to voice your concerns of reality not being how you wish it would be.

    “41. It must be remembered that India is a multi-cultural pluralistic society with tremendous diversity. There are a large number of religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, cultures, etc. in our country. Somebody is tall, somebody is short, somebody is fair, somebody is brown, somebody is dark in complexion, someone has Caucasian features, someone has Mongoloid features, someone has Negroid features, etc. We may compare our country with China which is larger in population and size than India. China has 1.3 billion people while our population is 1.1 billion. Also, China has more than twice our land area. However, there is broad homogeneity in China. All Chinese have Mongoloid features; they have a common written script (Mandarin Chinese) and 96% of them belong to one ethnic group called the Han Chinese.”

    My post may come of as critical to author, but it is not. As I previously stated I initially agreed with his point of view. The issue being questioned seemed so strange that it triggered my curiosity, meaning that the subject brought to the table is a subject worth questioning. You could say the author created incentive for me to seek knowledge and enlighten myself, which in essence is something that deserves gratitude.

    The heathen Norseman thanks, and will bookmark and follow this blog in the future to see if other subjects questioned will once more trigger my curiosity of this strange and weird world of ours.

  • dingojack

    I was going to say: “‘…but they do not have any right to demand that others bow to their demands‘. Citations required“. But the above has beaten me to the punch.

    Interestingly, Australia is a multicultural country too, don’t recall the courts trying to shut down abattoirs out of ‘respect’ for Jains, Buddhists, Hari Krishnas or anyone else for that matter*. For this reason I find the judgement weird, not to mention the meander into demographics, I kept wondering when they where going to mention the course and length of major rivers, heights of mountain ranges and the like.



    * or other actions of a similar kind out of ‘respect’ for any particular religious group

  • Holy crap, did I need to put a ton of disclaimers on my comment, or something? I thought that making explicit reference to “sophistry” would be sufficient cluemthat I was deliberately making a stupid argument.

    I do feel that many of the arguments surrounding vegetarianism (and, in particular, the extreme posititions like jainism) are ridiculous – not much less ridiculous than the idea of expecting consent, really. I wasn’t trying to troll, but it seems I unintentionally trolled some thin-hulled vegetarians. Sorry about that!

  • Walton, your sophistries are as bad as mine, except that I was deliberately playing the fool. Saying intelligence is a criterion by which you can morally assign life and death, and then turning around and saying that same criterion is vague, gives me a better understanding of why some of you guys didn’t realize I was trying to construct a silly moral argument. If you want to, seriously, engage kn moral calculus surrounding vegetarianism, you need to do better than that!

  • wholething

    Jains are vegetarian and the Jain religion puts strong prohibitions against the taking of life.

    What a bunch of fucking idiots. Eating plants is just as immoral as eating any other form of life.

    Jain extremists walk hunched over sweeping the ground in front of them with a broom lest they accidentally step on a bug. They won’t eat until they are assured that the fruit or vegetable had fallen to the ground on its own. They will not eat it if it is picked. Their thinking is more “advanced” than you give them credit for.

    The only moral option for the jains is to not breed and die out so they no longer need to eat anything at all.

    Jain extremists are celibate.

    Furthermore, Jains are atheists.

    Are they not merciful that they only ask butchers to take a vacation the same week? They also asked the Bengal tigers not to hunt prey that week. The tigers said they would get back to them on that.

  • dingojack

    Interestingly, the FoAK* reports that Jains believe that: “All living organisms have soul and have ability to perceive pain therefore, need to be interacted without causing much harm (Ahimsa/Non-violence)”.

    Which puts the Walton/Marcus Ranum converstaion in a new light.

    🙂 Dingo


    * Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge (FoAK). Not to be confused with the Font of all Derision, Comic Sans.

  • anomaly

    Australia is multicultural in the sense of several cultures are represented in addition to the homogenous and very dominant Anglo/European culture defining the country.

    That issues like the one from India is something remotely relevant to your courts could be because there are very few similarities between India and Australia regarding historical elements that influence. India have been for thousands of years been a chaotic maze of cultural and social diversity depending on some kind of common understanding to assure some kind of “mutual survival”.

    When you think of Australia as multicultural in similar fashion to complexity of the ancient origins of civilization in India, it is no surprise one would find it hard to understand verdict. If not mistaken, Australian courts acknowledged Aboriginal people as human instead of simply element that make up Australian fauna sometime in 1960-70`s. This is something that perhaps reveals the irrelevance of comparing these countries.

    India is a nation with experience of internal cultural conflicts, how they come to be, and the dangers they represent. The more recent bloody war leading to the partition of India into Pakistan and Bangladesh is only one recent incident that implicate a bit more complex situation to manage.

    I recommend a couple of hours of reading about the chaotic history of India, then read what the court supports their decision with. You might still disagree, but you could not possibly say they argue their case without use of reason.

    Where India balance the challenges the incredible diversity in the region offers, as they have always been forced to do. The region I come from would react by going berserk if put in a similar situation, as we always have done. I am making no moral judgement of what is right or wrong, I am just simply stating the actual reality of things as they are. I find subjective emotional attributes added to actions and causal mechanisms as distracting. It is similar to how we describe armed conflict. Regardless of claims to represent the forces of good or the evildoers, the object remains the same, eliminate your opponent.

    I am only pointing out the perception of all views and thoughts different from own does not necessarily reflect the stupidity and ignorance of others. At least not claim to reject religion in embrace of reason and logic, while still clinging on to the religious doctrine of representing the infallible true path to human salvation. Do not reject the possibility that there is more knowledge to be gained, and different societies with different solutions is proof of inferiority.

    Enlightenment is the pursuit of knowledge. Rejecting the need for pursuit extinguish the light.

  • dingojack

    anomaly – If you seek enlightment, as you claim, perhaps you need to do some more reading about Australia law vis-a-vis Aboriginals.


  • longstreet63

    I have no clear knowledge of Indian constitutional law, But that judgement would be unconstitutional in the US by paragraph three.

    What I got from it was: it’s traditional for a municipality to defer to a religious group’s beliefs by imposing them on others.

    It’s only 9 days and it’s no big deal to be a vegetarian for 9 days (they acknowledge the unlikelihood of alternate sources of meat).

    Those whiny butchers can work the rest of the year.

    This is why countries with freedom of religion but not an establishment clause need to get one.

  • Personally, I’m a follower of Jayneism.. After all.. He robbed from the rich and He gave to the poor.. Our love for Him now ain’t hard to explain..

  • All living organisms have soul

    Can one be an atheist and believe in “soul”?

  • Marcus Ranum, soul isn’t a state of mind. [drum hit] You don’t pick it. [brass honk] It picks you. [enter backup singers] It picks you up. [drum hit] It knocks you down. [drum hit] It’s not a state of mind, it’s a state of funk! [bass solo]

  • sc_b3852da0511075db84e787440ae4d8ec

    anomaly, you ain’t make sense in the face of rationality.

    You may see India as very complex multi culture as an outsider, but that shouldn’t be an excuse, but that’s what exactly you are making.

    Since I born and grew up there, I am very disappointed that you are giving excuse in the name of culture.

    If you use the word, then everyone has to shut up and stop the rational thinking and not worry about equality and compassion ?

    That’s what you are doing exactly.

    Culture is not a magic word. It shouldn’t be an excuse either.

  • fastlane


    So, does this mean we can toss people in jail for failing to talk like pirates on ITLAPD in future?


    …we make them walk the plank. Yarrrrrrrr.

  • “anomaly, you ain’t make sense in the face of rationality.”

    Well, I’m not sure that a sentence like that makes sense, even “in the face” of irrationality.