Religious freedom vs. human rights?

The rise of religion globally threatens human rights, according to British academic Stephen Hopgood in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post.  After the jump, read his argument and consider the thoughts I raise. [Read more...]

The First Amendment is going out of style

According to a recent study, more and more Americans–on some issues a majority of them–no longer believe in the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.  Especially when it comes to religious freedom.

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The People’s Rights Amendment

House Democrats have introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would specify that the rights guaranteed by that document apply only to individuals and not to “corporate” entities.  The intention is to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling that allows organizations to spend unlimited money on political campaigns since they have free speech.  But a “corporation” is not just a business organization.  The Amendment–introduced by Jim McGovern (D-Mass) and co-sponsored by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 26 other Democrats, and one Republican–would have far-reaching consequences, as George Will points out:

[McGovern's]  “People’s Rights Amendment” declares that the Constitution protects only the rights of “natural persons,” not such persons organized in corporations, and that Congress can impose on corporations whatever restrictions Congress deems “reasonable.” His amendment says that it shall not be construed “to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association and all such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.” But the amendment is explicitly designed to deny such rights to natural persons who, exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of association, come together in corporate entities to speak in concert.

McGovern stresses that his amendment decrees that “all corporate entities — for-profit and nonprofit alike” — have no constitutional rights. So Congress — and state legislatures and local governments — could regulate to the point of proscription political speech, or any other speech, by the Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, NARAL Pro-Choice America or any of the other tens of thousands of nonprofit corporate advocacy groups, including political parties and campaign committees.

Newspapers, magazines, broadcasting entities, online journalism operations — and most religious institutions — are corporate entities. McGovern’s amendment would strip them of all constitutional rights. By doing so, the amendment would empower the government to do much more than proscribe speech. Ilya Somin of George Mason University Law School, writing for the Volokh Conspiracy blog, notes that government, unleashed by McGovern’s amendment, could regulate religious practices at most houses of worship, conduct whatever searches it wants, reasonable or not, of corporate entities, and seize corporate-owned property for whatever it deems public uses — without paying compensation. Yes, McGovern’s scythe would mow down the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as well as the First.

The proposed amendment is intended to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which affirmed the right of persons to associate in corporate entities for the purpose of unrestricted collective speech independent of candidates’ campaigns. The court’s decision was foreshadowed when, in oral argument, the government’s lawyer insisted that the government could ban a 500-page book that contained one sentence that said “vote for” a particular candidate. McGovern’s amendment would confer upon Congress the power to ban publishing corporations from producing books containing political advocacy, when Congress considers a ban reasonable — never mind the amendment’s rhetoric about the “inalienable” rights people enjoy until they band together to act in corporate entities.

via Taking a scythe to the Bill of Rights – The Washington Post.

Rights as pretexts for state power

In the course of an essay worth reading as a whole, Mark Steyn identifies a profound shift in the understanding of a human right, from a limitation on government power to a mandate for even more government power:

When it comes to human rights, I go back to 1215 and Magna Carta — or, to give it its full name, Magna Carta Libertatum. My italics: I don’t think they had them back in 1215. But they understood that “libertatum” is the word that matters. Back then, “human rights” were rights of humans, of individuals — and restraints upon the king: They’re the rights that matter: limitations upon kingly power. Eight centuries later, we have entirely inverted the principle: “Rights” are now gifts that a benign king graciously showers upon his subjects — the right to “free” health care, to affordable housing, the “right of access to a free placement service” (to quote the European Constitution’s “rights” for workers). The Democratic National Committee understands the new school of rights very well: In its recent video, Obama’s bureaucratic edict is upgraded into the “right to contraception coverage at no additional cost.” And, up against a “human right” as basic as that, how can such peripheral rights as freedom of conscience possibly compete?

The transformation of “human rights” from restraints upon state power into a pretext for state power is nicely encapsulated in the language of Article 14 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which states that everyone has the right “to receive free compulsory education.” Got that? You have the human right to be forced to do something by the government.

via The Perversion of Rights – Mark Steyn – National Review Online.

Equal rights for atheists

We have had movements for equal rights for African-Americans, women, gays.  The next victimized, discriminated against minority who are demanding approval:  Atheists!

The Washington Post has published an op-ed piece by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, raising the issue and asking “Why don’t Americans like atheists?”

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently — and uncivilly — declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers intrinsically suspect and second-class citizens.

Is this knee-jerk dislike of atheists warranted? Not even close.

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

via Why do Americans still dislike atheists? – The Washington Post.

First of all, to answer the initial question, the major reasons atheists aren’t well-liked are evident right there in the column:  the atheists’ habit of condescension, anti-religious bigotry, reductionistic snarkiness, and insufferable smugness.

Second, one has to ask, how, exactly, are atheists being discriminated against?  Are they not allowed to vote?  Are they not getting hired?  Is there wage discrimination against atheists?  Are they not allowed to get married?  A complaint here is that studies show that many people don’t want to marry an atheist and don’t want to vote for one.   If someone doesn’t want to marry you, is he or she violating your rights and discriminating against you?  Should defeated politicians be able to sue everyone who voted against them for discrimination?   I realize that the authors are just demanding social acceptance, but can there be an inalienable right to be liked?

The third point is the most important of all.  Notice how the authors are framing the issues.  Atheists are actually MORE moral than religious people, they say.  They then define “basic morality and human decency” not according to a traditional measure (such as the second table of the Ten Commandments) but according to what is primarily (though not completely) a list of distinctly contemporary secularist positions.  Thus, someone who does not believe in homosexuality, who does believe in capital punishment, who sometimes spanks his child, and who is not an environmentalist is EVIL, lacking basic morality and human decency.

This kind of moral and social inversion, if it catches on, would very soon result in actual and probably legal-driven discrimination against an unpopular minority whose human rights would be violated:  Religious people.

Euro-court OKs crucifixes in public schools

The European Court of Human Rights has overturned a lower court’s decision to outlaw crucifixes in Italy’s public schools.  Not only that, the court ruled that Christianity is, in fact, the religious foundation of European civilization, a fact that need not be hidden.

The Grand Chamber ruling. . .recognizes that “human rights must not be placed in opposition to the religious foundations of European civilisation”. rules

The decision is an affirmation of the respect owed to each country of the European Union for “the religious symbols of its cultural history and national identity” and for national decisions on how the symbols can and should be displayed, Fr Lombardi said.

A lack of respect, he said, would lead to a situation in which, “in the name of religious liberty, paradoxically one would limit or even deny this freedom, ending up excluding every expression of it from the public sphere”.

via Vatican welcomes European court decision on crucifixes  | CatholicHerald.co.uk.

Would that same reasoning apply in the United States of America?


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