Freedom of religion – a token gesture?
Freedom of religion is said to be a fundamental human right, its existence and importance is acknowledged in the Australian constitution and in international covenants to which Australia is a signatory.
Governments are obliged to ensure that freedom of religion and the freedom to manifest religious beliefs in public are recognised and protected in law.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 18 states:
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
To those who are adherents of a religious faith – and in Australia, according to the last census, that was seven among every ten of us – religion can be the most fundamental source of our sense of right and wrong; and of those beliefs about mankind and his place in the cosmos which transcend the everyday.
However in the world today, we have inconsistent attitudes to religion and religious tolerance. For example members of the Islamic community are subject to suspicion and hostility directed against them by those ignorantly seeking to blame terrorist violence upon Koranic teaching, with religious intolerance being widespread, even to the extent that it is occurring in our national press as well as in our day-to-day lives and interactions.
We, in theory, are free to have our own religious beliefs, whether that is following particular religious teachings, a belief in God or a higher power or not, and as such we should be free to express and live those beliefs and tenets without the fear of ridicule, prejudice, attack or persecution.
Religious persecution is nothing new; it has been happening for aeons and sadly so continues today, where one group or subsect of a religion wants to exert force, dominion or rule over another in the name of God. Yet whether we believe in God or not, we all inherently know that God would not direct us to go to war, commit crimes or acts of hatred in his name. Religious freedom is not a licence to abuse or do as one pleases, for many atrocious acts have been and are being carried out under the banner of religious freedom and in the name of religion.
But how can we really be free to develop and explore our own religious beliefs when we are raised in a family or culture to be Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist etc. depending on what the religious philosophy we are born into happens to be?
How free are we to have religion when one religion tolerates another, yet in the same breath condemns them, as they know they will not make it to God because they do not practise or uphold the same set of beliefs?
How free are we to be religious when the word and act itself has been bastardised beyond its original precept, which is a way of life that unifies all to return to God?
How free are we in our religion when we are told by everything outside of us what religion is, that we are not Divine, that we are less than God and not worthy, and that God or a chosen ‘sent one’ will be coming to save us?
How can we be free in our religion when we are not being raised to know religion by the way we live based on love, harmony, brotherhood and equality? Hence are we free to be truly religious?
‘Freedom of Religion’ is a human right but it is a token gesture built on false foundations; foundations that foster division and separatism, intolerance, hatred and even war. It is built on a foundation where in the name of religion, we can abuse, subjugate and persecute others within our own religion and outside of it. So what freedom are we upholding when we say freedom of religion is a fundamental human right?
The notion that we have the right of “freedom of religion” should not be used to foster separation in this world or be wielded as a domineering right to do what and as one likes because one’s religion believes it to be so . . . as this stance is what allows our differences of beliefs and so called tolerance of another group to lead to war, genocide, vilification, and oppression of others from differing religions or as a form of control of those under the dogma and dominion of a religion, such as the oppression of women for example, as in the case denial of birth control, access to abortion and the practice of female genital mutilation, etc.
We pride ourselves on our diversity, multiculturalism, and freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Yet in 2016, no different to the Dark Ages, we have people being subjected to hate, vilification and persecution based on their religious and spiritual beliefs, not only by non-believers but from opposing religions or by the religion itself, where the church, preacher, Rabbi, Brahman or holy man lays down the law of what will be adhered to for you to cast away your sins, be lifted up to Heaven, achieve Nirvana or escape the wheel of rebirth.
These may not be the witch-hunts of the 15th and 16th Centuries as no one is being burnt at the stake or executed for their religious convictions, yet the intent is the same, only the methods differ. Now in the age of technology and internet use, the witch-hunt is carried out in the media, politics, online via blogs and social media commentary, using carefully chosen labels and dictums intended to incite fear and suspicion, aiming to swell the emotions of the reader so that the targeted group appears in their imagination to be capable of all sorts of vile acts and crimes against humanity; whilst the instigator is afforded the freedom to persecute, vilify and abuse under the guise of freedom of speech.
Yes undeniably people should be entitled to their opinions and to believe what they want, but when that belief becomes a campaign targeting a person or group for their religious bent then it is no longer opinion, it is hate speech, persecution and vilification.
We must not mistake freedom of religion for freedom to abuse – much in the way the idiom of freedom of speech has been manipulated as an overarching covenant to be able to say anything one pleases, as it is my right to do so.
Could it be that with freedom of religion herein lies the real crime against humanity – whereby people abuse, lie and spread intolerance based on claims of public interest and freedom of speech and under the token of freedom of religion whereby we can uphold opposing beliefs and wield them against our neighbour.
However, it would appear that the crime goes deeper and much further back than this – not due to the lack of freedom of religion, but because we as a one humanity do not understand, know, teach or live true religion.