Threats to Religious Liberty: Real and Imagined

Mar 1, 2016

Photo credit: Scott Olson via Getty Images

By Ronald A. Lindsay

Religious liberty is under attack. A number of presidential candidates have made this claim, and it was one of the key issues in Thursday night’s Republican debate. One of the moderators, Hugh Hewitt of Salem Radio, even asserted that his worries about religious liberty keep him up at night.

There is no question that religious liberty is under attack — outside the United States. The U.S. State Department prepares an annual report on the status of religious freedom around the world and it can make for grim reading. Religious-based violence is widespread in many countries and in a number of countries this persecution is tolerated and, in some cases, even supported by the government. In addition, all too many countries continue to have laws punishing “blasphemy,” which serve as vehicles for suppressing religious minorities and preventing them from expressing their beliefs.

And then there is the Islamic State, which through its campaign of murder and mayhem is effectively carrying out genocide against various religious minorities, such as Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. In fact, the nonprofit organization of which I am president, the Center for Inquiry, joined with some other nonprofit organizations to urge President Obama to formally declare the destruction of these religious communities by the Islamic State an act of genocide.

One curious thing about this letter is that it resulted in an article in a Christian publication that appeared to express astonishment that the Center for Inquiry — most of whose supporters are nonreligious — would express such strong support for Christians and other religious groups. Actually, almost all atheists, agnostics, and humanists in the United States are vigorous supporters of freedom of conscience — for everyone. The nonreligious are all too aware of how religious bigotry has adversely affected them. Although outright persecution of nonbelievers is now rare in most Western countries, in many other countries open atheism continues to be a virtual death sentence. So most of the nonreligious recognize the importance and value of freedom of conscience and will do what they can to ensure everyone enjoys this fundamental freedom.

The essence of religious liberty is, of course, the freedom to believe what one wants to believe about gods and to express that belief, whether in writing, speaking, or in worship services. No one should be punished for exercising that freedom.

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3 comments on “Threats to Religious Liberty: Real and Imagined

  • I see the Russian faith-heads seem to be taking “religious liberties” in playing the “insulted card”, in arguments they are losing by evidenced reason, but asserting by legislation and legal bullying!

    A man on trial in southern Russia faces a possible one-year prison sentence for having written “there is no God” during an internet exchange.

    Viktor Krasnov was reported to police by two young men who objected to his language in the dispute, on the Russian social network VKontakte in 2014.

    He was charged in Stavropol for having “insulted the feelings of worshippers”.

    Such “insults” were outlawed in 2013 after the Pussy Riot case, in which two punk performers were jailed.

    There was international condemnation in 2012 when Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot were sent to labour camps for having performed a crude protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral.

    VKontakte is a Facebook-style networking site popular among Russians. In the exchange Mr Krasnov also dismissed the Bible as a “collection of Jewish fairy tales”.

    Linguistic experts supported the plaintiffs’ allegation that Mr Krasnov’s remarks were “insulting to worshippers”.

    The relevant Russian law provides several alternatives to a one-year prison term in such cases, including a fine of up to 300,000 roubles (£2,900; $4,083) or up to 240 hours’ forced labour.

    Is does not seem to have taken Russia very long, to move from one backward ideology to another!

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