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Freedom of Religion – a free pass to do what you want
People often get freedom of religion and freedom of belief mixed up.
The first amendment of the US Constitution states that “Congress can make no law “prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]“. This implies that people have freedom of religion: to practice their religion as they see fit.
This is problematic.
In Australia we have no such constitution that says anything about the freedom of religion, which is a good thing because if freedom of religion means “Freedom to practice religion in any way a person sees fit” – how can we reconcile human rights with the thought that religious practice (whatever that means to a person) cannot have guidelines?
The above definition of freedom of religion is quite subjective. What’s to stop a homophobe from saying “It’s my freedom of religion to practice discrimination against gays because my religion says gays are sinners”. It doesn’t because in Australia we have human rights laws against discrimination against gays. This however directly goes against a persons supposed freedom to practice their religion how they see fit.
The freedom to practice religion is widely being used as a free pass for a person to do whatever they want, as long as they do it under the guise of religion or belief. While people should be free to believe what they want – that is not freedom of religion, that’s freedom of thought. You can think whatever you want but if what you believe turns into an action that harms or incites hatred or maims another human being – that should be the line. If your expression of opinion or action harms others – that should be the line no-one should be able to cross.
Freedom of religion cannot be reconciled with human rights if a person is using that freedom of religion as a way to do whatever they want or say whatever they want.
We should be saying that people have the freedom to think but not the freedom to do because the freedom practice religion how you want is being abused. It leads to the discrimination of gays and trans people. It’s been used as a way to kill others in holy wars and marginalise communities. It’s being abused by being used as a free pass for bigotry and hate.
Human rights and laws won’t go away because your belief contradicts them. The “I’m exercising my freedom of religion” shouldn’t cut it as a rationalisation anymore. If your freedom of religion harms another person and you try to excuse yourself be peddling the “it’s my religion” defense, all you’re saying is that your belief (especially if it’s a higher power that can’t be proven) is far more important to express than the lives, rights and safety of your fellow human beings.