Can There Be Too Much Religious Freedom?
What is religion’s place in modern society?
It’s an interesting question that is very hard to answer. Looking back in history, most civilizations and empires were religious in nature. They were founded and shaped by their reverence for deity.
Now? Not so much. Ever since the creation of the United States of America, government and God have been largely separated. Modern constitutions give citizens the right to worship how they please, and governments nowadays stay out of religion.
That is, they try to.
Right now, the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether same-sex marriages should be protected by federal law. There are those who say that doing so would be an attack on their religious freedom. But what exactly is religious freedom, and just how far is it protected as a right?
A person does have the right to believe whatever they want. If part of their religion is believing a certain behavior is a sin, then they are free to abstain from that behavior. Drinking alcohol, for example, is forbidden in several world religions. If a follower of one of those religions were forced to drink alcohol, it would be a violation of their religious freedom.
But let’s say that a religion believes that adultery is a sin, and that those who commit adultery are to be condemned and punished—let’s say through stoning. Just because that is the follower’s belief does not give them the freedom to follow their conviction through to action. They cannot stone someone who they designate as an adulterer and then hope to be protected from the law and avoid assault charge simply because they truly believe what they did was a matter of religious conviction.
No person of any religion should be forced to act against their beliefs. But no religion has the right to act in a way that harms another individual. The problem is the really gray, muddy, sticky area in between. There’s really no fine line of demarcation. That’s why courts are forced to hear cases where people of religious conviction refuse to perform a service for someone because of their faith.
If your religion teaches that clothes are a sin, are you free to wander around your house naked? Of course. But the minute you decide to step outside your front door and out into your neighborhood, you’d better be wearing clothes. If your religion teaches that a certain race is lesser than your own, can you demean them at your dinner table? Unfortunately, you can. But if you decide to share those views at a public meeting, your religious beliefs won’t, and shouldn’t protect you.