Freedom of Religion
Besides cultural, historical and grandfather legislative reasons, can someone explain to me why there should be such thing as "freedom of religion" from a pure logical point of view. Why are religious groups so special that they are often given special treatment (e.g., tax exemption for church business and property)? Why should I as a tax payer indirectly pay for something I have no faith in? Why don't philosophical beliefs (e.g., Taoism, Confucianism, evolutionism) that are based on logic or even all beliefs receive the same protection?
Originally Posted by jcoates
The only other apparent reason I can add to the ones at the beginning of your question is population size. A significant portion of the population in most societies holds some sort of either deeply or nominally held religious belief. Acknowledging that commonality, even if the religions themselves may vary, is most commonly done by retaining historical protections for religious practice. That remains true even if the fervor with which religion is practiced shows signs of decline.
Another point worth noting, at least as a matter of law is the differences in the age of the documents that guarantee those protections. In the US, the initial document guaranteeing the principle explicit religious freedom is our constitution. We also have a tradition of not throwing out our constitutions (federal or state) when we become dissatisfied with them. Instead we amend them repeatedly, which can actually lead to some confusion, increasingly complicated legal rulings and long standing debates about the intent of the original language as often principles from more than a century prior are applied to present day problems. This has had some impact on the debate over religion and it's place in US society. Officially, the constitution says there is to be no establishment of religion in US, a direct response to official state religions in Europe and the subsequent persecutions that they produced against dissenters. In practice the situation has become something different. While there is no official state religion, an unofficial standard has developed which is harder to define and even more difficult to change. Many of the founding fathers were nominally Christian or even Deist with less strident religious views than their successors. yet later generations have been more explicit in their faith. This has had the effect of making Christianity in its various forms into the unofficial American religion in the eyes of some, particularly those who reject secularism completely. Of course that point of view clashes with modern ideas about other faiths, philosophies and scientific viewpoints. Another side effect of this gradual approach to addressing religion in society is the development of the tax code. Religion has been grandfathered in as exempt due to all of the issues you mentioned along with the population concerns.
Now Canada is different specifically in that its Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a far more recent document and attempts to address more present day issues directly, rather than leaving them up to later interpretation.
Specifically, it goes beyond establishing freedom or religion to also include freedom of thought, conscience, belief, expression, assembly, the press, and association. That would seem to be an effort to address some of the concerns you brought up. Still the favorable tax treatment religion gains does exist.
Nevertheless, there are many secular equivalents in place to help balance the scales. Charitable groups, scientific researchers, universities, community organizations, and political advocacy groups all qualify for tax exempt status in the US. Of course the rules for each group vary slightly. For example, churches can lose their status if they directly advocate for political candidates from the pulpit. On the other hand, their participation in voter registration (so long as they don't take sides) and advocating particular political positions usually leaves them in safe water. It's certainly not a cut and dry set of rules however.
It also protects those different religions in that we don't all have to belong to one faith. There are a lot of things my tax dollars go to that I don't agree with in this country that I have no say over, and I don't see a whole lot of tax dollars being funnelled back into my church so...
Yeah, a lot of tax dollars go to things people disagree with, whether it's war or the prime minister's salary.
I will believe so when not every presidential speech ends with "God bless America", when no social service grants (e.g., $2.2 billion in 2005 alone) are given by the government to faith-based organizations that often pick and choose who and what they will serve (http://richarddawkins.net/articles/6...re-the-victims, http://shanevanderhart.wordpress.com...ting-the-boot/), when churches have to go through the same qualification scrutiny and financial auditing as other non-profit organizations in order to receive tax exemption, which ends up putting a greater tax burden on the poor. The untaxed church property is estimated at about $100 billion dollars.
Originally Posted by jcoates
Last edited by skatinginbc; 01-11-2012 at 12:49 PM.
As for claims that there are few legal protections for religious groups in an increasingly secular world, the Supreme Court just threw cold water on that idea today. They issued a unanimous ruling (a rarity in controversial cases these days) as I was typing this post stating that employees can not sue religious organizations for discrimination in hiring and firing for positions meant to advocated the faith positions of that church. Specifically, the plaintiff in the case was a woman who taught a faith based subject at a religious school. She ended up being diagnosed with narcolepsy and having to take time off for her condition. When she had recovered, she attempted to return to work. She was told that her position had been filled and there were no available vacancies for her. She threatened to sue for discrimination under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (one of the expansions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). She was subsequently fired. She then pursued assistance from the state which sued on her behalf for both discrimination and retaliation based on her disability. The court's ruling today states that religious institutions have the right to discriminate in hiring or employment issues involving those tasked with transmitting its message. They acknowledge the need to protect against discrimination, but say it must be balanced with religious freedom to choose who communicates the churches teaching. Note this appears to be a narrow ruling. On its face it does not seem that it would apply to discrimination claims brought by a janitor or a math teacher. Also, the plaintiff was not fired for any specific belief she held as far as I can tell. Simply because her health status interrupted her ability to complete her job, leading to replacement. The ruling appears to narrowly enforce the church's right to made hiring and firing decisions which may be discriminatory in a secular setting for positions meant to disseminate or advocate its point of view.
All of these issues are inextricably and often very messily tied together. Separating them out into clearly defined neat little categories is virtually impossible. It's frustrating for sure, but not surprising that the situation exists if you look at the big picture.
I don't think it is possible to discuss this question divorced from history and culture.
Originally Posted by skatinginbc
The reason that we should never relax in zeal for the principle of religious freedom and separation of church and state is simply this. Consider the alternative. Iran is a good example. When a military dictator is overthrown in the middle east, we don't know whether to cheer that the bad guy is gone or prepare ourselves for the even worse guys, the Ayatollahs and clerics.
There is much to criticize about the good old U.S. of A. And yet...in America...
Do you want to go to church on Sunday morning and worship Jesus Christ? OK.
Do you want to go to the Mosque on Friday night and worship Allah? OK.
Do you want to go to the Synagogue on Saturday morning and worship YHVH? OK.
Do you want to go to the Zen-do on World Peace Day and sit with your Zen master? OK.
Do you want to stay home and watch TV, never plagued by a spiritual thought at all? OK.
Unfurl the stars and stripes! Ring the Liberty Bell! From sea to shining sea!
Last edited by Mathman; 01-11-2012 at 08:15 PM.
To be fair you also have that freedom in Canada, Australia, the UK, France, Japan, South Africa, Brazil and dozens of other countries as well. We don't have the market cornered in religious liberty. In fact some nations that have official state religions actually exercise less social pressure to conform to broad religious standards than some regions or communities in the US.
That's because President Obama is actually the Anti-Christ and he is trying to fool people.
Originally Posted by skatinginbc
What I think is quite strange is that Christians engage in public prayer, even though Jesus told them not to. Sessions of the U.S. Senate always open with a public prayer. Preachers pray aloud from the pulpit "so that men can hear them," etc.
But Jesus said (Matthew 6:5-6):
Originally Posted by Jesus of Nazareth
Quite so. Citizens of those countries should wave their flags and ring their versions of the Liberty Bell, too. And, like Americans, never relax in the defense of liberty.
Originally Posted by jcoates
Last edited by Mathman; 01-11-2012 at 08:17 PM.
Yeah, the more the merrier!
Actually, being a so-called secular state is what helps give us freedom of religion. (Other countries may go about it a different way, but this has worked well for us.) The fact that there is no established religion means that people can go about their lives peacefully while other people attending an entirely different house of worship do the same thing across the street. We don't have to waste time, treasure, and the blood of our children on needless efforts to assert or protect our rights against those other people. A state that doesn't favor any specific religion also means that people who were persecuted in other countries came here and flourished, benefiting us all. Many of these dissenters were Christians. For example, the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites were all, I think, anabaptists from central Europe. They believed in baptism at the age of consent, not in infancy. Today there are Amish, Old Order Mennonites and more modern assimilated Mennonites, and Hutterites in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. I'm not sure there are any at all in Germany. Nowadays the equivalent is a lot of ancient belief communities from the Middle East, such as Chaldean Christians from Iraq, Coptic Christians from Egypt, Jews from Yemen, Syria, and Iran, and so on, who have a better chance of freely practicing their faith here than they have in countries where they lived for millennia. We must be doing something right. (As are Canada, Australia, and the other countries mentioned by jcoates as well.)
People who have religious beliefs are safest when all religions and even no religion (atheism, agnosticism, or "don't care") are equally protected by the community and the government.
Last edited by Olympia; 01-11-2012 at 03:12 PM.
A ban on carrying knives at school discriminates against members of the Sikh religion, according to Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Commission (http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/quee...523-1ezs5.html).
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Sikh students are permitted to wear a kirpan, a ceremonial dagger, to school (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/...coc060302.html)
"There are no laws banning veils or headscarves in the US, though there have been unsuccessful attempts in some states to ban Sharia. The sponsor of such a bill in Oklahoma wanted to prohibit women from wearing headscarves in driver's license photos. The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in 2010 banned veils that obscure the face for security reasons, but later changed it to accommodate Muslim women." (http://www.albawaba.com/editorchoice...-public-405246)
Central Asian nomads have a tradition of carrying knives and a person might think he would be less a man without wearing one. Or I might insist on wearing a face veil because I think I am too ugly and it would hurt my self-esteem without it. Why are cultural traditions and personal beliefs not good enough reason, and yet religious beliefs can get away with a lot of rules? Why should someone with a religion be treated differently from me? If a Muslim woman can wear a face veil for her driver's license photo, why can't I?
These are all great questions that test the system, and we never needed to wrestle with them before. It will take a good bit of work and yelling to get things resolved.
My feeling, in the interest of common sense, is that a headscarf worn on a driver's license photo doesn't obscure the face, but a full veil like a burqa, covering everything but the eyes, is an exercise in futility in terms of an ID photo. What do we do in such a case? Certainly these days, the need for security must be taken into account. I haven't followed any specific legal rulings on this matter. Ironically, in the country of origin of the women who wear burqas, the matter might not even come up because women there might not be allowed to drive. Actually, the Quran never describes any kind of veil that women should wear. Women are simply told to dress modestly. Burqas, chadors, or simple headscarves are all cultural and regional. Among the Tuareg, I think it is, the men wear veils over their faces, not the women.
The fact is that laws have to take into account practical considerations and also the existing social contract. How can animal sacrifice not violate animal cruelty laws, for example. Or how can religious freedom and the need for a full-view ID photo be reconciled? The 21st century isn't for the faint of heart!
Religion is only one of many belief systems that form the identity of a person or a group, so why should a country's constitution specify "freedom of religion" when it can be simply replaced with or included in the "freedom of belief"? How about "freedom of cultural expressions"? Is religion more important than one's culture so that the former deserves special mention?
"Freedom of belief" + "Freedom of speech" = You are free to think and speak but may not have the freedom to act on it.
"Freedom of religion" = Does that mean you may act on it in the name of religion? Such ambiguity results in many discriminatory acts. For instance, a Toronto printer refused to print letterhead, envelopes, and business cards for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom...gion_in_Canada). A New Brunswick florist refused to serve a same-sex couple's wedding because of her religious beliefs (http://news.sympatico.ca/oped/coffee...dding/7ec6b3e2). A California fertility clinic refused to provide services to a lesbian because of its fundamentalist religious views. (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encycloped...g-32296-2.html)
In 1995, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the exemption for Sikhs from wearing the "Mountie hat" as part of the RCMP dress requirements. If a Sikh is allowed to dress differently, why aren't others? Why can’t an Albertan Mountie wear a cowboy hat if being a cowboy is his religion?
Last edited by skatinginbc; 01-11-2012 at 11:08 PM.
I have great respect for and emotional attachment to ancient Iranian people due to my etymological research on the toponyms of China's Western Regions. They were friendly neighbors of China and left many beautiful footprints in Chinese history and language. Although the majority were Zoroastrian, many of them were Buddhist, Christian and Jewish before the Islamic conquest. I always feel sad for the modern Iranians, who are reined, suffocated and brainwashed under the name of God.
Originally Posted by Mathman
I feel sad for them too, BC. A pharmacist in our neighborhood is an Iranian Jew, and a local optician, from his name, is probably an Iranian Christian or other minority. They got here sometime after the Ayatollah seized power. Iran's loss is our gain, of course, but I imagine what they must have gone through to get out, and I wonder whether everyone in their family got out. I had Iranian friends in college in the days before the fall of the Shah, and I often wonder what happened to them and their families. This is not what the presence of the Almighty is supposed to do in the world.
Thanks, by the way, for educating me about (among many other things) the influence of ancient Persia on western Chinese culture and language.