Is ‘Freedom of Religion’ Necessary?

Mark Mercer, a Philosophy professor, has a piece in The Ottawa Citizen that’s worth a read.

As a civil libertarian, he argues that “freedom of religion” really isn’t necessary if other liberties are respected. And when we give special privileges to people of faith, we’re “[violating] our equality as citizens.”

Courts have ruled that Sikh boys may wear small daggers, kirpans, to school. Other schoolchildren may not wear small daggers.

Muslim women may be veiled while testifying in court, at least so long as their religious belief is sincere enough, though neither men nor non-Muslims may.

One would have thought that a liberty is for all of us, not just for those who claim special status. The correct civil libertarian position is to insist both that the laws apply to all of us equally and that the laws have no business telling us what to do unless serious harm is in the offing.

From a civil liberties perspective, the thing to do is to ask whether schoolchildren carrying sheathed knives in their clothing pose a serious risk of harm to their classmates or others. If they don’t, then rules against their carrying knives are illegitimate, and any schoolchild who wants to carry one may, whether for religious reasons or not.

It’s not mentioned in the piece, but it’s also disturbing to me that there are religious exemptions in some American states for parents who kill their children because they opted for “faith healing” instead of real medicine when the children were dying.

There’s no reason someone’s religion should serve as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

(Thanks to AxeGrrl for the link!)

  • Brice Gilbert

    Should be able to believe whatever you want, but you shouldn’t be able to DO whatever you wan’t. If it violates laws you should get no special treatment. Should be end of story.

  • Heidi

    Yes, freedom of religion is necessary. However, he’s not talking about freedom of religion. He’s talking about special privileges for the religious, which are most certainly not necessary.

  • Ibis

    I’m on the side of accommodation for the most part. As long as no one is harmed, people should be able to practise the customs of their culture, including religion, in a multicultural, multiethnic country like Canada. To me, this kind of rhetoric smacks of “If you don’t like the way we (the whites of northern/western European decent) do things, then you can go back where you came from.” To a Sikh, the kirpan is a ceremonial object, not a weapon. What reason does a non-Sikh teen boy have to be carrying a knife in school? We should have rules that are flexible enough that we can distinguish context and circumstances.

    Your example about faith healing does not fall into the same category. In that case real people are harmed, most often children. A situation where no accommodation should be given or expected. I’d say the same for education and non-medical circumcision, for example.

    It does become tricky when coming up against a practice that might be an instrument of oppression (e.g. burqa) or might pose a security risk (e.g. no-photo driver’s licenses), or cause unnecessary harm to animals (e.g. kosher slaughter). These are complicated issues to discuss, debate, take to the courts, and revisit periodically.

    But a one-size-fits-all approach to all such questions is not necessary. We have a tradition in Canada of inclusion rather than assimilation and I think we’re made the richer for it.

  • cbc

    God, I have been thinking this for YEARS, and been unable to articulate it just so. Quite perfect, and validating for a libertarian like myself. Thank you for that!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    This debate has been ongoing in the USA for quite a while, where it is termed as “strict separationism” vs. “accomodationism.” Prof. Mercer appears to be arguing on the side of strict separationism.

    BTW, if he’s in Ottawa, I hear that’s actually in a different country (opinions on this vary) and may have different laws than in the USA.

  • http://www.tos100.com TOS100

    My religion involves everyone handing me all of their cash. Please do not infringe upon my religious freedoms. :)

  • Nicole V

    Never mind freedom OF religion. Can we concentrate on freedom FROM religion? Religion has no place in government. Why should society make accommodations for people just because they believe in Jesus, Mohammed or whatever deity he/she so choses?

    How much do you want to bet that if I walked into court wearing a Tinkerbell costume I’d be locked up for contempt? Yet people can do anything in the name of religion. If you don’t want to live in a society that cooperates, you have to cooperate, too.

    If you feel as though your child absolutely has to carry around a knife (no matter how ceremonial), then I believe that child should be home-schooled or private schooled.

    If you want the same rights for everyone, you have to settle for the same rights… not special, additional rights that accommodate your faith.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com deen

    @Heidi: An argument can be made that If you have freedom of thoughts and beliefs, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, you don’t really need freedom of religion as a separate freedom. I have to admit some sympathy for that argument.

    On the other hand, considering that human history is full of examples of religious oppression, I can also understand wanting to give freedom of religion a special mention in a constitution. But it should be understood that this doesn’t give religion any special status, it is just one example of more generic freedoms we should all be able to enjoy. It’s just that when it comes to religion, people apparently need an extra reminder.

  • http://nocoercion.com Darren

    Murray Rothbard pointed out decades ago that all rights are really just aspects of the fundamental right to use your body and property as you see fit, as long as you don’t violate anyone else’s same right. Using terms like “right to free speech,” “right to assembly,” and “right to freedom of religion” really just confuses things. Plus, it leads some people to attempt to defend logically impossible “rights” like the right to a minimum wage, minimum level of housing, minimum level of health care, etc.

  • Claudia

    I may be misinterpreting this, but the comments seem more about restriction than allowing. They seem to be more along the lines of “being religious should not excempt you from rules other people have to follow”. I wholeheartedly agree with this, of course. Of course I see that the important thing really is that liberty be maximized in all other respects.

    As with all libertarian positions, this one sounds really great in theory, but once you start thinking about the real world it gets muddier. For starters eliminating “freedom of religion” outright is a non-starter, because it would take states like Texas 0.00001 seconds to enact laws barring non-Christians from all sorts of jobs, housing discrimination would be rampant and we’d soon find that we either swore on that Bible or we’d be in trouble with the judge. Much in the same way I can sort of see the general spirit of “don’t force integration of private businesses because they’ll learn on their own that it’s a good monetary decision not to exclude blacks” but don’t believe for a second that parts of the South wouldn’t STILL be segregated without the Civil Rights Act, I don’t see how implied, instead of overt, freedom of religion, would lead to better freedom overall.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com deen

    @Darren: ah, marvelous, a Libertarian. What’s so logically impossible about a right for a minimal standard of living? It’s perfectly possible to defend those rights just by appealing to your two “fundamental rights”. What’s your right to do with your property as you see fit worth if you have none? What’s your right to do with your body as you see fit worth if you are starving or dying due to lack of medical care?

    Besides, a right to non-intervention is too low a standard. Allowing someone to die due to inaction still takes away someone’s right to live as they see fit. If we as a people want to protect people’s right to live as they see fit, then we as a people should create institutions that allow people to live in the first place.

  • AxeGrrl

    Ibis wrote:

    I’m on the side of accommodation for the most part. As long as no one is harmed, people should be able to practise the customs of their culture, including religion, in a multicultural, multiethnic country like Canada.

    I have no issue with that, but the essential question here, imo, is: “why should the non-religious be forbidden to do things that the religious are given an ‘exemption’ to be allowed to do?

    If a non-religious woman gives an earnest, personal (but non-religious) reason for wanting to wear a veil in court, why shouldn’t she be allowed to do so, when a Muslim woman would be allowed?

    Why is taking a break from work to pray somehow automatically ‘more valid’ than any secular reason for doing so?

    Mercer nails the essential issue here, imo:

    The point is, we all have our own reasons for wanting to do what we want to do. Taking reasons of religion somehow to be special, to be weightier than other reasons, violates our equality as citizens.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com deen

    @Claude: all the examples you mention could be covered by a simple equal-treatment law. Of course, such a law could mention religious affiliation as a specific example that would be protected by this law, along with race, gender, sexuality, and such, but it would not necessarily be limited to these categories. A special law just for religion should not technically be required.

    I admit that there might be political reasons to have a law specific to the protection of religion, though.

  • http://www.youratheistneighbor.blogspot.com keystothekid

    I keep reading in the comments that government should make no special accommodations for religion/the religious. The real kicker here is that crazy religious people think that the government is giving atheists special privilege by bending over backwards to do things like remove religious statues from courthouses, etc. Of course, they’re wrong, but, the irony is laughable.

  • Derek

    “why should the non-religious be forbidden to do things that the religious are given an ‘exemption’ to be allowed to do?”

    They shouldn’t be. Should be simple as that. I’ve no idea why it’s not.

    I enjoyed the article quite a bit. Thanks Hemant and Axgrrl.

    Cheers and Excelsior,
    Derek

  • http://uzzas.blogspot.com/ uzza

    “we have a tradition of inclusion”, and that’s why we exclude people, from in this case, carrying pocket knives.

    If we’re equal,then in Venn diagrams you don’t divide the circle of “people”, you divide the circle of “harmful things”.

  • Ron in Houston

    While he framed in in religious terms what this person is actually doing is making an argument against what are legally known as protected classes.

    Protected classes turn civil rights from a “shield” into a “sword.” Let’s say you fire a totally worthless employee X. If employee X is a non-protected class he’s probably out of luck. However, if employee X is a member of a “protected class” then he can go into court and claim that he was fired not because he was totally and completely worthless but because he was a member of a protected class.

    From my perspective, I don’t know what to do about this dilemma. I’d agree that people who have been historically abused need some proactive protection. However, when you make that protection, you cause other problems.

    I’ve pondered this for a time. I’m open to any ideas on this issue.

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The “Eh”theist

    It seems that besides a law protected freedom of belief, everything else could be addressed through (non) legislation of actions.

    If catholic can sit together and eat juice and crackers then everyone should be able to-if not then no one else should be able to do so either. So a law banning religious assembly, should in fact ban all religious assemblies. A law restricting unbelievers from working in a career should restrict everyone or be abolished.

    This would go a long way toward reviving public discourse because people wouldn’t feel like their input on subjects is a sham because it will eventually end up before the courts. Engaged people are people who can be show the negative impact of religion on society.

    Again, yay to a Canadian for an important intellectual contribution.

  • Phoebe

    Good article. I agree with Mercer.

    “Freedom of Religion” seems to do nothing but give religious people special privileges that the rest of us don’t get.

  • http://nocoercion.com Darren

    “What’s so logically impossible about a right for a minimal standard of living?”

    If someone has a right to a certain standard of living, then someone else must have the obligation to provide it (by definition). That means some people would not have the right to exclusive use of their bodies and property but instead are subject to the ownership claims of others. Another way of phrasing this is to say that some people have the ‘right’ to fully or partially enslave others. Obviously, this is a violation of the entire idea of rights.

  • http://yashwata.com Roy Sablosky

    Wow, what a great article by Mercer. I wish I had make this point as clearly in my book.

    What I did point out in the book is that “religious freedom” is a contradiction in terms. Religion consists, not of doing what you wish, but of doing what you’re told. The idea that we require the “freedom” to obey our self-appointed guardians — the priests and mullahs — is positively Orwellian.

  • http://yashwata.com Roy Sablosky

    By the way, @Darren, when you announced that you’re a libertarian, we stopped caring what else you might say. The libertarian meme is so ugly and vicious one has to shut one’s ears.

  • Ibis

    If a non-religious woman gives an earnest, personal (but non-religious) reason for wanting to wear a veil in court, why shouldn’t she be allowed to do so, when a Muslim woman would be allowed?

    If she can give a comparable reason, I imagine she would be. In other words, her reason would, like the Muslim woman’s reason, have to outweigh the reasons against allowing her to do so. When that woman comes forward and asks to be allowed to wear a veil, her reason can be judged on its own merits.

    and that’s why we exclude people, from in this case, carrying pocket knives.

    Actually, we don’t. Sikh boys are permitted to wear kirpans in school. And I’m glad they are. We distinguish between kirpan (ceremonial object) and a hunting knife (e.g.). The Sikh has a good reason to wear the kirpan (as good as any cultural/religious reason for doing anything, that is) whereas there is no comparable rationale for the hunting knife. Its only purpose is to be used as a weapon, and weapons have no reason to be allowed in a school setting. Let’s imagine for a moment that this school has a cooking class and students are expected to bring a set of knives. It would be stupid to say, “oh no, we can’t have students preparing food with knives, because we have a rule against knives.” We make reasonable accommodations.

    We don’t say, because the majority speaks English, we’ll only have English schools and the French will just have to give up their Francophone culture. Or, the majority is Protestant, so everyone will have to convert to Protestantism. It’s too bad that it took us this long to extend the same considerations for aboriginals and non-British immigrants.

    In the States, you have a secular constitution. Separation of church and state, and that works for you (when you can enforce it). It makes public secularism the clear choice. Here, we have a different history and different circumstances, and so far, our choice of making “special allowances” for those in the minority has worked for us. It’s not just about religion per se; it’s about continuously building a federation out of a very motley collection of geographic and cultural identities.

    The Citizen article is just bigotry masquerading as libertarianism.

    This, on the other hand, is multiculturalism at its best. Skip ahead to 1:42.

  • http://nocoercion.com Darren

    By the way, @Darren, when you announced that you’re a libertarian, we stopped caring what else you might say.

    It’s truly remarkable that you speak for everyone here, especially since the individual to whom I was responding clearly does care what I have to say since he was engaged in active propositional exchange with me.

    The libertarian meme is so ugly and vicious one has to shut one’s ears.

    Ugly and vicious? Perhaps you’re thinking of something else. Libertarianism is based on the idea that all human relationships and interactions should be peaceful and voluntary. I would be shocked if someone felt he had to shut his ears to such a concept.

  • wright1

    By the way, @Darren, when you announced that you’re a libertarian, we stopped caring what else you might say. The libertarian meme is so ugly and vicious one has to shut one’s ears.

    As Darren suggested, speak for yourself. I don’t agree with some libertarian ideals, and I have been unimpressed with some professed libertarians. But to summarily dismiss an individual in that way is absurdly intolerant.

    If you’re an atheist, substitute “atheist” for “libertarian”. Care for the fit?

  • http://uzzas.blogspot.com/ uzza

    Ibis, I read the post, so I know that Sikh boys are permitted to carry knives. It seems to escape you that other boys, and apparently all girls, are not so permitted. In your Francophone analogy, English speakers would be forbidden to speak French.

    Distinguishing between [a knife which someone claims to think is something other than a knife] and [a knife] is foolish.

    A pocket knife, or the more kirpan-like hunting knife, is a basic tool that is useful for an enormous range of tasks, and claiming it’s only purpose is to be a weapon is nearly as ludicrous as claiming a kirpan could not be a weapon.

    To reject performing common useful tasks as a reason for a girl to have a knife, yet accept another student’s reason that a preacher in 17th century India said to go armed, besides bordering on dementia, is discriminatory.

  • AxeGrrl

    Ibis wrote:

    If she can give a comparable reason, I imagine she would be. In other words, her reason would, like the Muslim woman’s reason, have to outweigh the reasons against allowing her to do so.

    Say the non-religious woman said that wearing a veil while speaking in front of others is necessary for her to be able to express herself freely, and without it, her anxieties prevent her from doing so? What if she said that wearing a veil is simply how she chooses to appear in public, and perhaps has done so her entire life…and it’s simply something she feels is an important part of her own, personal identity as an individual?

    Would either of those reasons be seen as being ‘comparable’ to religious reasons? If not, why not?

    Ibis commented:

    The Citizen article is just bigotry masquerading as libertarianism

    Ibis, could you point to what, specifically, you consider ‘bigotry’ in the article?

    From the article:

    From a civil liberties perspective, the thing to do is to ask whether schoolchildren carrying sheathed knives in their clothing pose a serious risk of harm to their classmates or others. If they don’t, then rules against their carrying knives are illegitimate, and any schoolchild who wants to carry one may, whether for religious reasons or not.

    If building regulations against structures in common areas are illegitimate when it comes to sukkahs, then they are illegitimate when it comes to whatever a resident wants to construct there.

    If requiring photos on licences serves no good purpose, then no one need have a picture on his or her licence.

    If wearing a veil doesn’t impede justice, then anyone may wear one.

    Notice his wording where he takes on each of those specific situations ~ he doesn’t end each point by saying ’then no one should be allowed to do so’, he ends each with ’then everyone should be allowed to do so’ (paraphrasing). Some might say that’s ‘nitpicking’, but I think it’s an important distinction.

    The bottom line question, to me, is:

    What’s ‘bigoted’ about suggesting that the non-religious should be allowed to do things that the religious are allowed to do?

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    “What reason does a non-Sikh teen boy have to be carrying a knife in school?”

    Let’s see… coring and slicing an apple at lunch, for one.

    “Because some dead guy said so a couple thousand years ago” is NOT a reason to carry a knife, and if the rest of us are prohibited from carrying, Sikhs should NOT be getting special dispensation to do so.

  • http://yashwata.com Roy Sablosky

    Y’all are right, I should not have dissed Darren as if speaking for everyone. It’s just me.

    Of course this –

    “Libertarianism is based on the idea that all human relationships and interactions should be peaceful and voluntary.”

    – is pure fiction.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com deen

    @Darren: that rights come with obligations should not be a surprise to you. You already recognize the obligation to not interfere with the rights of others. But you probably also support the obligation to provide and fund police and a legal system to protect your rights. You likely even support the obligation to restrict the rights of criminals.

    And again, an obligation to not interfere is not sufficient to protect people’s rights, as it is clearly possible to violate someone’s rights by inaction, like withholding necessary medical care. You never addressed this p oint. I suspect you can’t – not without making it sound like you think that other people dying in the street is an acceptable price to pay for your right to hang on to your money.

    And that’s why nobody takes libertarians seriously.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    @deen — except libertarians, of course. ;)

  • fiddler

    Roy Sablosky Says:”By the way, @Darren, when you announced that you’re a libertarian, we stopped caring what else you might say. The libertarian meme is so ugly and vicious one has to shut one’s ears.”

    So what you are saying is that you and all others here are dogmatic and incapable of weighing reasoned arguments or positions. Did you poll us? Were you at some point elected or elevated to a position of moral authority over us? I thought not. I’ll make sure to note your inability to reason in the future. What’s sad is that this is the kind of statement made by the devout, not by the thinker.

    I’m not libertarian, and don’t particularly care for their positions on a myriad of issues, and yet I don’t feel the need to automatically dismiss an entire argument for the sake of your concrete doctrines and dogma. Perhaps speaking for yourself in the future wouldn’t be a bad idea.

  • AxeGrrl

    I think the focus/debate on libertarianism is obscuring the broader, more important point here….

    which is simply equal treatment under the law, whether someone is religious or non-religious.

  • Claudia

    @deen, you’re probably right. I guess I can see how “equal treatment for all” could lead to the same freedoms for everyone and less special treatment in favor of the religious. Thanks.

    If someone has a right to a certain standard of living, then someone else must have the obligation to provide it (by definition). That means some people would not have the right to exclusive use of their bodies and property but instead are subject to the ownership claims of others. Another way of phrasing this is to say that some people have the ‘right’ to fully or partially enslave others. Obviously, this is a violation of the entire idea of rights.

    See this is why libertarian views are always attractive when you don’t think of them too hard, but then you get into the weeds and are shocked by what you find.

    One of my best friends just had a baby. Should he be allowed to not feed it or take care of it? I guarantee this precious little thing is going to have him and mommy fully, not partially, enslaved for many years to come.

    What say you of the obligation of doctors to assist the sick or injured should they be in danger? The requirement that a doctor abandon a stroll with her husband should she witness a car crash with gravely injured victims denies her the right to go to lunch at that nice little cafe.

    I could really use someone to help around the house. Maybe I could hire someone who was desperately poor by giving him a loan and telling him he can pay for it through wages he earns from me, ensuring of course that the pay is low enough and the interest high enough that he’s an indentured servant for life. What? A minimum standard of pay? How dare you enslave me?

    In a social species, ensuring the rights of one will neccesarily restrict the rights of another. Finding a good balance is hard, but thinking that removing all restrictions ensures maximum freedom and prosperity for all is pure fantasy.

  • Greg

    Ibis:

    To a Sikh, the kirpan is a ceremonial object, not a weapon. What reason does a non-Sikh teen boy have to be carrying a knife in school?

    To me, a knife is a tool used to peel and core food, sharpen pencils (I prefer the way a knife-sharpened pencil feels in my hand to one sharpened by a pencil sharpener), and help me do odd jobs I come across (among other things). Never having used a knife as a weapon, I have never thought of it as one.

    So clearly, when I carry a knife around, my knife is not a weapon. And also, any child (boy or girl) with the same view should be allowed to carry a knife, after all, it is not a weapon. Right?

    Of course not. The knives aren’t banned in the first place because the owner thinks of it as a weapon, but rather because it can be used as a (very effective) weapon. Whether the owner believes it to be a ceremonial object, or even a piece of plasticine is irrelevent. The characteristics of the knife in no way change depending upon who is holding/owns it and their beliefs.

    If some new religion sprouted up believing a fully loaded pistol to be a ceremonial object, should boys/girls then be allowed to walk around school with a fully loaded pistol? It’s absurd.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    I’ve always said that religious freedom is impossible, because religion is so very focused on eliminating freedom. Before freedom can truly exit, religion must leave the room.

  • Godless Lawyer

    My own local paper, and I missed this.

    Anyways, wanted to add to the debate that I was personally at a tribunal hearing (at Ottawa city hall, no less)the other day at which an expert witness said that, as a scientist, he could not affirm that his testimony would be ‘the whole truth’ as he believed truth was unattainable.

    After attempting to explain the difference between ‘legal truth’ and ‘scientific certainty’ to no avail, the chair allowed the witness to give evidence based on a modified affirmation that he would do his best not to mislead the court and give only honestly held opinions.

    Best example I’ve seen to date of non-religious accomodation.

  • Godless Lawyer

    Should also mention that the Kirpan case – which was decided by the Supreme Court of Canada – attempted to balance the right to religious expression with the goal of promoting public safety. The religious expression clause in our constitution is subject to the ‘reasonable limits’ clause, which says that freedoms may be ‘subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.’

    It was established, and accepted as fact by the court, that the Kirpan the young man was wearing was wearing was not capable of being used as a weapon (it was restrained in its sheath by an elaborate tie down). With that finding made, the court found – and I’m paraphrasing fairly liberally here – that it was more of a symbol or piece of attire (like a yamukah, or a cross necklace).

    While I’m against the over-accodation of relgion, I see the need for some in our society. Certainly the freedom of religion clause is necessary in our constitution insofar as it protects against the possibility of outlawing certain beliefs or practices. It should also be pointed out that the same clause provides ‘freedom of conscience’ – which has been used in some cases to protect non-believers. For instance, courts now allow an affirmation before giving evidence as opposed to the ‘traditional’ religious oath.

  • Robert W.

    In a secular society without the express protection of religion the right to practice religion would cease to exist. In a secular society where religion is not deemed to have any value and in fact is villifiled like on this board, it would have no use and as such would not be protected. So the liberty of those who want to practice religion would be subjugated to the liberty of those who see no purpose for it. your comments on this thread already bear out that outcome.

    To say that the other freedoms we enjoy would protect religious expression is naive at best. That is like saying those same freedoms mean that we don’t need the penal code.

  • AxeGrrl

    Robert W wrote:

    So the liberty of those who want to practice religion would be subjugated to the liberty of those who see no purpose for it. your comments on this thread already bear out that outcome.

    Who are you addessing this to Robert?

    And how would allowing non-religious people to do things that religious people are allowed to do ‘subjugate’ the religious? You didn’t substantiate that point at all.

  • http://nocoercion.com Darren

    @Darren: that rights come with obligations should not be a surprise to you. You already recognize the obligation to not interfere with the rights of others. But you probably also support the obligation to provide and fund police and a legal system to protect your rights.

    No, I absolutely do NOT support such an obligation–that would contradict the right of the individual not to be aggressed against. If you happen to run across a libertarian who does support such aggression, I would submit that he or she simply hasn’t completed the intellectual journey to libertarianism.

    You likely even support the obligation to restrict the rights of criminals.

    There can be no “obligation” to restrict the rights of criminals. Rather, one would be justified in restricting a criminal’s freedom in defense against an ongoing act of aggression or as restitution for an already committed act of aggression. But no, no one can be obligated to do so.

    And again, an obligation to not interfere is not sufficient to protect people’s rights, as it is clearly possible to violate someone’s rights by inaction, like withholding necessary medical care. You never addressed this p oint. I suspect you can’t – not without making it sound like you think that other people dying in the street is an acceptable price to pay for your right to hang on to your money.

    I shouldn’t have needed to address that since the answer is contained in what I had already said. No one can have a “right” to someone else’s body (including labor) or property, unless it is as restitution for an act of aggression. Inaction cannot violate someone’s rights. You cannot have a right to something that requires the non-consensual use of someone else’s person or property.

    Think about it this way: your system means that rights are being violated when a doctor does not spend all his time, money, and energy treating a sick patient. In fact, it makes no logical sense to restrict the obligation to doctors. You’re violating rights (by your definition) every time you pass a homeless guy and fail to give him all your money and property. You’re violating rights by not seeking out all the hungry people in your city and providing them with food.

    Anyway, I don’t want to hijack this discussion–just wanted to try to correct what I see as your incorrect notions about rights and libertarianism.

  • qwertyuiop

    @Ibis:

    The Citizen article is just bigotry masquerading as libertarianism

    Why, because they don’t agree with letting religion be a get out of jail free card?

    Also, I love this comment, Greg. You nailed it!

    If some new religion sprouted up believing a fully loaded pistol to be a ceremonial object, should boys/girls then be allowed to walk around school with a fully loaded pistol? It’s absurd.

    I bet if one of Ibis’s beloved Sikh kids went crazy and stabbed some kind with the “ceremonial object” she’d still support his right to carry it.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Mercer makes some good points in the article, especially about the fact that it’s unfair that religious people get to have exemptions to certain rules that other people don’t get, but I still think “freedom of religion” is necessary.

    I think that a religious reason for doing something in one’s life should not be regarded as better than any other reason. If a secular person cites their conscience or personal beliefs, that should be a good enough reason as well. Likewise, if something is actually dangerous (e.g. intentionally not providing kids with healthcare out of a belief they’ll get better on their own), neither a religious or secular person should get away with it. There shouldn’t be a special exemption that only religious groups get.

    However, I still think there is a place for the idea and phrase “freedom of religion”. Without it being explicitly said, members of the majority religion could always find an excuse to scrutinize minority religions, but not their own. They could recognize the dangers of certain practices in other people’s religions, but not realize similar dangers in practices of their own. Conversely, they could pretend that practices of other religions are more dangerous than they are in order to promote prejudice. (I’m not saying that’s what the article is doing, but that this is what someone could do if freedom of religion is not made explicit.) While it sounds good on paper to say that freedom of religion would be the outcome of other freedoms put together, it wouldn’t necessarily be the case. We need it to be stated outright.

    I was also thinking about this: There’s the issue of discrimination within religious groups. While a private company would not be allowed to discriminate in hiring, a religious organization can (e.g. a denomination with only male clergy). As disgusted as I am by the discrimination, I do think that they have the right to determine who they are going to hire in as a pastor (provided they pay taxes and don’t receive money from the government); however, I think that other businesses, etc. should have to abide by the anti-discrimination laws. I think this is where we’d have to distinguish between an ideological group/organization and other groups/organizations. A religious group can hire, say, only someone of their religion who’s a particular gender as pastor the way a political group would obviously prefer to hire someone of their own political beliefs as leader. However, a religious person who’s the manager of, say, a furniture store shouldn’t be able to bring that rule into the business and only hire people of his/her religion the same way a manager with certain political views should not discriminate in hiring based on those views.

    Also, I agree with some of the points Claudia made in the discussion on Libertarianism. Individual people sometimes hurt others and cite their own freedom as a reason why they should be allowed to do it. We can’t simply ignore the effect that a person’s actions can have on another person.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    @Robert W.:
    Utter nonsense. Compare:

    In a non-woolley society without the express protection of knitting the right to practice knitting would cease to exist. In a non-woolley society where knitting is not deemed to have any value and in fact is villifiled like on this board, it would have no use and as such would not be protected. So the liberty of those who want to practice knitting would be subjugated to the liberty of those who see no purpose for it. your comments on this thread already bear out that outcome.

    To say that the other freedoms we enjoy would protect knitting is naive at best. That is like saying those same freedoms mean that we don’t need the penal code.

    Sounds silly, doesn’t it? The fact is, society already allows for freedoms to persue all sorts of activities that most people don’t consider not all that valuable (with apologies to those of you who enjoy knitting) without explicitly protecting them. And yet, people continue to happily enjoy these activities.

    Like I said, there may be historic or political reasons to specifically mention religion in the law, but nothing in religion itself is so special that it needs a special status within society or in law.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    @Darren:

    No, I absolutely do NOT support such an obligation–that would contradict the right of the individual not to be aggressed against.

    Funny. I write “obligation” and you read “being agressed against”.

    Wait, what? You are not obliged to respect the rights of others? Or protect the rights of others? And you think you are contributing to our understanding of rights? Seriously?

    Inaction cannot violate someone’s rights.

    I hope you agree that killing someone by an act of violence violates someone’s rights? Then allowing someone to die by your inaction (such as failing to provide medical care even though you could have) violates their rights just as much. One counterexample refutes your assertion.

    You’re violating rights (by your definition) every time you pass a homeless guy and fail to give him all your money and property.

    Straw man. I never said you had to give away all your possessions. How could that even work? If there was such an obligation, wouldn’t the formerly homeless man be obliged to give all his possessions right back to me, who at that point would be homeless and penniless?

    You’re violating rights by not seeking out all the hungry people in your city and providing them with food.

    I might, yes. But I hope to fulfill this obligation by paying taxes and voting for parties who support an adequate welfare system.

    But isn’t it a scary thought, that you and I might be violating someone’s rights right now, just by sitting here? I suppose that’s one of the reasons why people find so much comfort in libertarianism.

    @AxeGrrl: you’re right, I should stop responding to Darren. At least I’m also contributing to the original topic :)

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    @Sharmin:

    Without it being explicitly said, members of the majority religion could always find an excuse to scrutinize minority religions, but not their own. (…) While it sounds good on paper to say that freedom of religion would be the outcome of other freedoms put together, it wouldn’t necessarily be the case. We need it to be stated outright.

    Yes, that’s what I meant when I said there might be political reasons to keep religion explicitly mentioned in the law. Religion is still such a prominent political force in today’s society that it would currently be irresponsible not to. In an ideal world, however, religious preferences should require no more mention in the constitution than your right to prefer Star Wars over Star Trek (or vice versa – please don’t make me responsible for another off-topic discussion ;) ).

  • Claudia

    however, religious preferences should require no more mention in the constitution than your right to prefer Star Wars over Star Trek

    How DARE you Deen, when everyone knows that….

    nah, just kidding ;)

  • Robert W.

    Axxgirl,

    My comment wasn’t directed at anyone in particular. It was a comment on the various posts I see here. For example, teaching children the Bible is considered by some to be child abuse.

    Deen,

    Changing the words doesn’t make what I said silly. Historically we already have multiple examples of the effects of a secular society on the freedom to practice religion- communist Russia and China come to mind.

  • AxeGrrl

    Robert W wrote:

    the liberty of those who want to practice religion would be subjugated to the liberty of those who see no purpose for it. your comments on this thread already bear out that outcome.

    and:

    My comment wasn’t directed at anyone in particular. It was a comment on the various posts I see here. For example, teaching children the Bible is considered by some to be child abuse.

    Robert, are you seriously suggesting that the fact that someone ‘considers’ teaching children the Bible to be child abuse constitutes religion being ‘subjugated’? really?

    And what does that have to do with allowing non-religious people to do things that the religious are allowed to do?

    Could you try to explain the connection there? because I’m not seeing it.

  • EAB

    This reminds me of the kid who wanted to attend his prom wearing a kilt, including one accessory which was essentially a knife. If being Scottish was a religion, he could have gotten away with it. But alas, wearing a kilt is dictated by tradition, not religion.

  • http://nocoercion.com Darren

    Funny. I write “obligation” and you read “being agressed against”.

    Wait, what? You are not obliged to respect the rights of others? Or protect the rights of others? And you think you are contributing to our understanding of rights? Seriously?

    I’m not going to take up any more space here trying to sort through and correct the bizarre things you’re saying. If you’re interested in continuing this conversation, a good place would be this blog post of mine from earlier in the year that briefly touches on this topic: The absurdity of a right to health care

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com deen

    @Robert W:

    Changing the words doesn’t make what I said silly. Historically we already have multiple examples of the effects of a secular society on the freedom to practice religion- communist Russia and China come to mind.

    Communist Russia and China were not a-religious regimes, they were anti-religious regimes. That is quite different from the sort of secular government that we’ve been advocating.

    Although, if you live by the childish philosophy of “if you’re not with us, you are against us”, you might not be able to appreciate the difference.

  • Robert W.

    AxeGirl,

    Yes I do think that people considering teaching children the Bible to be child abuse is subjugation of religion because the moment it is considered that, then the next step will be to outlaw it in the name of protecting children. Which could easily happen in the event there is not a freedom of religion.

    And what does that have to do with allowing non-religious people to do things that the religious are allowed to do?

    I don’t think I made this connection. My point is that there is a special need as understood by the founding fathers that there needs to be freedom of religion. Speech, expression and assembly in a secular society could easily exclude the right for religious expression, speech or assembly. For example, some people believe that voicing religious opposition to homosexuals should be considered hate speech and as such should be outlawed

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @Robert W:
    You wrote that you think “people considering teaching the Bible to be child abuse” subjugation of religion, since it can lead to it being outlawed. Then, you go on to imply that religious leaders should be able to speak out against homosexuality, as part of their freedom of religion, although that also leads people to try to pass discriminatory laws against homosexuals. Homosexual sex used to be outlawed, and still is in some countries, because people believe their religious leaders’ preaching about it. Even in countries where it is not outlawed, homosexuals are discriminated against in other ways, mostly because people and politicians believe religious leaders.

    I think this is related to the point AxeGrrl was making. (Please correct me if I’m wrong in understanding what you’ve written, AxeGrrl.) There shouldn’t be different rules for religious people. If it’s okay for a religious person to express their disagreement with another group, then it’s okay for a non-religious person to express their disagreement with another group. If preaching against homosexuality is covered under freedom of religion and freedom of speech, the a person saying that teaching the Bible to children is wrong and/or abusive is also covered under freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Neither group should be given special treatment or persecuted.

  • AxeGrrl

    Sharmin, that is, indeed, the point I was making :)

    Robert W wrote:

    Yes I do think that people considering teaching children the Bible to be child abuse is subjugation of religion because the moment it is considered that, then the next step will be to outlaw it in the name of protecting children.

    Robert, you need to look up the defintion of ‘subjugation’. Some people merely ‘considering’ something as abuse does NOT constitute subjugation. By your logic, homosexuals could claim that religious people merely ‘considering’ homosexuality to be a sin would be subjugation…..but it’s not.

    Now, the ‘next step’ you describe (if it were to ever happen) would be. But you’re being disingenuous to suggest that some people merely holding an opinion is subjugation.

    Robert W wrote:

    My point is that there is a special need as understood by the founding fathers that there needs to be freedom of religion. Speech, expression and assembly in a secular society could easily exclude the right for religious expression, speech or assembly.

    Robert, did you even read the article? this comes immediately after the very first sentence in it:

    A culture and legal system that respects freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of conscience, and that doesn’t interfere with what people are doing so long as they are not harming others, will necessarily be a culture and legal system in which people are free to worship as they want.

    That directly counters your point.

  • Robert W.

    Sharmin and AxeGirl,

    Yes I was taking it to the next step. I agree people holding opinions by themselves in and of itself is okay, however the next step is an easy one to make. As you point out, those that want rights for homosexuals that are in direct opposition to religious beliefs would want the religious beliefs to be silenced. The boy that wanted to where the religious knife as a means of religious expression is said to be being treated special so in order for all to be treated equal his religious expression should be denied. The slippery slope could continue from there and I would suggest that in a secular society religion would lose everytime without an express protection.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @Robert W::

    As you point out, those that want rights for homosexuals that are in direct opposition to religious beliefs would want the religious beliefs to be silenced.

    I didn’t say that. You did. I said that if Christians can preach against homosexuality, then other people, such as atheists, can speak out against teaching the Bible to kids.

    Also, I find it odd that you’re concerned about potential discrimination that might happen against Christians but ignore the fact that homosexuals are actually being discriminated against right now. The fact that I find anti-homosexuality preaching offensive and hateful is not being used as a reason to ban such preaching, but the fact that religious people find same-sex marriage offensive is used to ban it. If my feelings against homophobia can’t be used to ban preachers (and I agree they should not be banned) then homophobic Christians’ views against homosexuality should not be used to ban same-sex marriage, books with gay characters, etc. In other words, we should all be covered under freedom of religion, not just one group.

    The slippery slope could continue from there and I would suggest that in a secular society religion would lose everytime without an express protection.

    Religious people have more rights in secular countries with separation of church and state than they do in theocracies. Even if you were living in a country where your own religion was in charge, you may be treated badly if a different denomination was in charge. I agree that freedom of religion has to be part of that secular society, but as I said above, it has to apply to everyone.

  • AxeGrrl

    Robert W wrote:

    As you point out, those that want rights for homosexuals that are in direct opposition to religious beliefs would want the religious beliefs to be silenced.

    sharmin already beat me to it, but…..I pointed out no such thing Robert.

    You can’t make disingenuous comments to try to make a point Robert ~ and saying that opinions amount to ‘subjugation’, as you did, is just that.

  • AxeGrrl

    Robert W wrote:

    The boy that wanted to where the religious knife as a means of religious expression is said to be being treated special so in order for all to be treated equal his religious expression should be denied.

    (sigh) I don’t mean to sound rude here Robert, but you’re forcing me to ask you this again: did you actually read the article and/or our posts? Your consistent misrepresentations make me think otherwise.

    How many times do I have to make the same point over and over for you to ‘get’ it and stop misrepresenting what I’ve been saying?

    One more time….it’s not about NOT allowing the religious to do such things, but allowing non-religious people to do things that the religious are allowed to do.

    I understand that this is a long thread with lots of posts, but that’s no excuse to consistently misrepresent repeated expressions of a point.

    If you do so again, I’ll have to conclude that you’re being wilfully dishonest here. Please don’t let that happen, as I appreciate your regular presence here and contribution of an alternate point of view. There’s nothing healthier.

  • AxeGrrl

    Sharmin wrote:

    If my feelings against homophobia can’t be used to ban preachers (and I agree they should not be banned) then homophobic Christians’ views against homosexuality should not be used to ban same-sex marriage, books with gay characters, etc. In other words, we should all be covered under freedom of religion, not just one group.

    Beautifully said Sharmin :)

    Robert, do you have any objection to that comment? if so, what?


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