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Recent Religious Oppression in North America

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Until recent centuries, religious freedom was a luxury enjoyed in few areas of the world. Most people were expected to conform to their country's dominant religion or suffer the consequences. The latter could be as serious as execution on a charge of heresy or other thought crime. Today, in North America, we don't execute or sentence people for thought crimes. But some forms of religious oppression still exist. This continues is in spite of:

  • In the U.S.: A guarantee of religious freedom and a wall of separation between church and state which the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized as part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and

  • In Canada: A guarantee of religious freedom in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's constitution. However, the Criminal Code has a blasphemy law that criminalizes anti-religious speech. No charges have been laid under the law in recent decades. Many consider it a "zombie law": -- a law that is still on the books but is unenforceable today.

There are many factors that reduce oppression in North America:

  • A growing tradition, at least since World War II, of considerable personal religious freedom and respect for religious and cultural diversity.

  • The U.S. and Canada have the greatest religious diversity of any countries in the world.

  • Essentially all religions practiced in North America sharing an Ethic of Reciprocity -- called the Golden Rule in Christianity -- that calls on everyone to treat others decently.

Some religious oppression is experienced within high-demand faith groups. Occasionally, their leadership is unable to convince all of the membership of the correctness of group teachings and behaviors. In order to enforce conformity, some of these groups resort to excommunication, shunning, or disfellowshipping of their members. We describe such actions in some of our essays on individual religions and denominations and on new religious movements.

Some high-demand faith groups have strict policies regarding health care that are interpreted by some as a form of religious repression. These include forbidding members to seek medical treatment, thereby shortening their life expectancy and drastically increasing infant and child mortality rates within the group. The ban on blood transfusions by the Jehovah's Witnesses drastically increases pregnancy-related death rates among the women in the group.

This section discusses a few typical instances of oppression within and between religions, and oppression of individuals because of their beliefs or practices.

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Copyright Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally written: 2004-JAN-12
Latest update: 2019-JUL-27
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