Why “Freedom of Religion” can never mean “Freedom from Religion”

A friend I met via this very blog sent me two articles earlier this week about a move in Quebec to remove all religious symbols in the public sector. Read this news article about it and then read McGill University’s response. My thoughts follow.

religion_and_politics

So-called Western democracies pride themselves on being harbingers of freedom, equality, and acceptance for the world and everyone in it. As popularly perceived, “freedom of religion” was established and promoted by the first colonist to the new world. Social memory in the United States says these brave pioneers had a vision to make the world better and wanted everyone to practice religion as he/she saw best fit. In reality, of course, Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620) were far from being the first colonies established by Europeans. Additionally, the first goal of colonies was to make money. We can fairly say that while some individuals did settle in the so-called New World for religious reasons, it was usually not to promote religious freedom, especially at first – it was to practice their religion and their religion only.

As I’ve written about before, like all celebrated “rights” – voting, pay, marriage, etc – a gap exists between rhetoric and reality. We say freedom of religion, but do we really mean it? Look at our nation’s history and consider how many few non-Protestant Christians have been elected to political offices, consider the discrimination different groups have faced. 

Quebec’s move to obliterate all “overt” religious symbols, except those of an “acceptable” size, is not only an attack on what are considered indispensable freedoms but is actually impossible. (By the way, I love this line in the article: “The plan also would exempt elected officials, raising the possibility that the premier of Quebec could some day wear a veil while the janitor who cleans her office could not.”)

Take Quebec’s plan to ban Muslim headscarves. Muslim headscarves are clearly a very overt symbol of religious, cultural, and personal mores. But, consider the opposite. An individual in the United States or Canada, for example, without a Muslim headscarf is wearing just as an overtly symbol that s/he is likely not Muslim and likely Christian, at least culturally speaking. Now, you may be thinking, “not having a Muslim headscarf doesn’t mean anything, that’s just the way it is.” And I would respond, “likewise, if you’re in a culture that is primarily Muslim – that’s the way it is, people wear headscarves.”  

Veils BBC News Web Article

Indeed the very clothes we wear and don’t wear and many other things (such as hair length to some) are very outwardly and overtly Christian, Muslim, or something else in many cases. They express a ton about who we are and even more about what our culture expects. 

As a result, Quebec’s plan is not at all about promoting religious freedom or religious-free zones, it is about requiring religious and cultural conformity. And Quebec is not alone in such a move. Schools around the United States, for example, have or have tried to pass similar rules for students and employees.

religion-symbols-religious-thumb1139037Such rules require a person to violate core beliefs the same way that requiring a Christian man to wear a Jewish kippah would violate his core beliefs. Additionally, considering that most people in the U.S. and Canada are Christians and considering human nature, Church and State are impossible to separate. We should keep aiming for true equality and laws that really are not based on the mores of one religion, but freedom of religion and ideals for secular governments do not also mean freedom from religion. Freedom from religion is simply impossible at this time in world’s history. (See the second comment, please, for some slight clarification on this last point.)



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

Tags: , , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. There is no security if people are walking around in bulky clothing and are unidentifiable. Schools have security. You could hide an assault rifle and 17 magazines under a burkha.

    “…considering that most people in the U.S. and Canada are Christians and considering human nature, Church and State are impossible to separate. We should keep aiming for true equality and laws that really are not based on the mores of one religion, but freedom of religion and ideals for secular governments do not also mean freedom from religion. Freedom from religion is simply impossible at this time in world’s history.”

    Why yes, lets continue with religious priviledge for white Christians and give lip service to equality while preventing non-believers from having equal rights, opportunity, and say in governance.

    There is no point in trying to fix things, separation of church and state is impossible. Lets just give up on that. Atheists don’t count for anything anyway… amirite?

    Like

  2. @myatheistlife

    Thanks for your comment. I actually don’t intend to promote privilege of any kind here. I was specifically thinking about Atheists when I said
    1-“An individual in the United States or Canada, for example, without a Muslim headscarf is wearing just as an overtly symbol that s/he is likely not Muslim and likely Christian, at least culturally speaking.” – please read “at least culturally speaking” with emphasis.
    2-“Additionally, considering that most people in the U.S. and Canada are Christians and considering human nature, Church and State are impossible to separate.” – please read “and considering human nature” with emphasis.

    Regardless of how we feel about it personally, we are living in a society that puts significant weight on Christian mores. Our holidays, clothing, food, etc are all part of a “Christian culture.”

    On the note of separation of church and state and Atheists- If we replace “church” with values/beliefs/ideas, then it is equally impossible to separate those from the state. No one set of morals/ideas/values/whatever should go toward making the laws. It gets tricky because at some point one set has to be judged as superior/better and “right” compared to the others. So, still…impossible to separate.

    I’m not going to address your comments about people possibly hiding a gun in a burkha, etc – those comments are not informed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve actually got the issue reversed. It is impossible to separate secular morals and government from invading religion or to have religion free from secularism, but it is absolutely possible to have a freedom from religion in a secular society.
    The morals that you mentioned as being from religion are not from religion at all. Those morals were forced upon religions by societies, not forced on societies by religions. Religions are not system of morals, they are systems of commands. Morals dictate doing what is right rather than what is commanded.

    Like

    • @suncoinc

      And any said morals are very culturally relative. To borrow a rough example I’ve seen elsewhere, you’re on a boat with your mom and spouse/partner/etc, the boat is sinking, you can only save one, who do you save? Different cultures have different answers.

      Morals are also always influenced by countless and ever-changing variables – take gay marriage for one, take slavery or interracial marriage. All have been issues beyond religious circles.

      Like

Trackbacks

  1. The United States IS Uneducated, NOT Fragmented & A Brief Case Study in Religion and Marriage Rights « Andrew Joseph Pegoda, A.B.D.
  2. Toward an Explanation of Fundamentalism and Freaking Out over Equality « Andrew Joseph Pegoda, A.B.D.
  3. Some Thoughts about Religion, Capitalism, and Everything in the Middle | Andrew Joseph Pegoda, A.B.D.

Please Comment While You're Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: