What is Freedom of Religion?
First we have to define Religion – which is controversial, in itself. Some define religion as ‘the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship.’ Atheism rejects the notion of a god entirely. Some define religion very specifically – in Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones, he has one character say: “By religion I mean Christianity, by Christianity I mean Protestantism, by Protestantism I mean the Church of England as established by law.” This definition would be exclusive to England, or countries common to English belief systems. All of these definitions completely ignore non-theistic religions – Hinduism and Buddhism rank 4th and 6th, by size, world-wide. With 4300 religions or belief systems in place, maybe we should be satisfied by defining religion as a belief system strong enough to impact a person’s world-view, to which people adhere either by word or deed, and which is a basis for their life-decisions. For simplicity, I plan to use “belief system” as my working definition of religion for the balance of this discussion.
Statistics found at www.adherent.com
If religion is simplified to belief system, then freedom of religion can be simplified to “tolerating all religious beliefs”. Just as freedom of speech means that controversial, or hate speech is protected, controversial religious beliefs should be protected under freedom of religion. Tolerance of one’s religious beliefs does not include using one’s religious beliefs to attack the rights and freedoms of someone else – doing so BECAUSE of their religious beliefs is a hate crime here in these United States. Conclusion: Your right to freedom of religion ends when it is used to prohibit ANY of my personal or religious freedoms. You can BELIEVE anything you want – as long as it’s not translated into ACTIONs that result in limitations on other peoples’ rights and/or beliefs.
What is Separation of Church and State?
Let’s look closely at the First Amendment’s exact wording regarding religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Both parts are designed to “separate” government from religion – attempting to achieve balance between what the government can FORCE you to do, and what it can PROHIBIT you from doing.
We can break this down into two parts: what you BELIEVE, and how you ACT. Anything you BELIEVE can be considered protected, under the free exercise of religion – but, specific ACTIONS are routinely prohibited. For example, murder is prohibited. It doesn’t matter to the legal system if your religion teaches that you are obligated to kill someone if they blaspheme your prophet, or convert from your religion, or you are required to sacrifice children; ALL murders are prohibited. This is not a restriction on religion, at all – it’s the protection of the sanctity of life, regardless of any religious affiliation. Similar American laws are universally in place to protect children from sexual abuse, or child marriages, or female genital mutilation. Laws are in place that protect adults include prohibitions against slavery; wife beatings; and polygamy. While multiple religions have prohibitions against usury, or the charging of interest on money lending, American commerce depends on money lending as a hallmark of American capitalism. Nearly all victimless crimes are rooted in some form of religious morality thinking – and all will eventually fall, with the rights of individuals over-riding the right of the State to determine what actions are appropriate for people to take.
What is Appropriate Religious Regulation?
What makes a law appropriate, when it restricts a religious practice? The test is pretty simple – does it protect the rights of individuals harmed by the religious practice? Our challenge, in regards to religious freedom, is to ensure that established religious practices that violate individual rights are never allowed to uproot U.S. laws, or become the basis for U.S. laws. As an example, Christianity, the largest religion in the United States, routinely defend their beliefs, including morality laws. Alcohol prohibition was pushed through as a Constitutional Amendment when the temperance movement reached it’s zenith, only to be over-turned within just a few years as the majority rebelled against the draconian enforcement methods. The drug laws are, for the most part, morality based and laws against sodomy were only recently over-turned by the Supreme Court, followed closely by Supreme Court interpretations that same-sex marriages should be legal. All morality laws, in reality, are nothing less than State establishment of religion-based prohibitions – nearly all “Christian” laws have now either been repealed, or struck down by the Supreme Court, clearing the way for more religious freedom – with Christians already arguing that these religious freedoms are resulting in a decline in the stability of our society. In the same way, adherents of Islam routinely argue for the implementation of Sharia Law, with all aspects enforced through laws implemented by the State. Christians see Sharia Law as the antithesis of Christianity, and routinely oppose ANY morality laws based on Islam – even though there’s clear parallels in both religions against alcohol, adultery, sodomy, and a host of other practices. Fortunately, our society has already rejected the idea that ANY religion can be implemented as a State religion, enforceable by the rule of law. Likewise, our Supreme Court routinely rules against teaching religion by government agencies, or even the appearance of government sanction – for example, school officials leading prayer at school events, etc. School curriculum has been changed to exclude religious indoctrination, despite the howls of protest from Christians who view such exclusion as contributing to the decline of our society. Yet, the howls from these same people would be even louder if Islam was the religion being taught, showing the clear divide between the concept of religious freedom, and accepting the true constraints required to ensure no government implementation of religion. Achieving balance between these two concepts is one of the true challenges of our political world.
Anthony R. Dutton
Veterans Party of America
Southern Regional Director