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Spirituality, human rights and religious truth


A BIG section: two very different meanings
of religious freedom and religious liberty:
1. The traditional meaning: Freedom of
belief, speech, practice, proselytizing, etc.
2. The new emerging meaning: Freedom to
restrict services against, or to hate,
denigrate, despise, or oppress others.

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  • Judge Vincent Howard at Marathon County Circuit Court, Wisconsin. "The free exercise clause of the First Amendment protects religious belief, but not necessarily conduct."1

  • Michael Terrance Worley. "Attacks on religious freedom will continue and combine unless we change a culture about overly broad anti-discrimination laws ..." 2 (He is apparently referring here to human rights legislation -- perhaps laws that protect people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.)

  • Ken Ham, a leading young Earth creationist, Christian fundamentalist, and the president of Answers in Genesis, a Creationist apologetics ministry: "... we’ve been told that Christians don’t need to worry -- we are free to have our beliefs, but that is demonstrably not true. The government is clearly no longer respecting or upholding the First Amendment. Instead, it is punishing people for having -- and holding to -- religious convictions, namely Christian ones. 3

  • Jon Stewart's amusing comment about "the long war on Christianity:" "I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion ... perhaps around their knecks? And maybe dare I dream it? -- maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps 43 of them." 4

  • Walter Koenig, who played the character Ensign Pavel Chekov in the original Star Trek series: "Religious tolerance is something we should all practice; however, there have been more persecution and atrocities committed in the name of religion and religious freedom than anything else."

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The author received an email with the following image included. Its source is unknown but is allegedly in the public domain:

Religious freedom

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Unsponsored link to the ACLU Liberty Newsletter
ACLU banner
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About the meanings of the terms "religious freedom," "religious liberty," etc:

The four terms: religious freedom, freedom of worship, freedom to worship, and religious liberty -- and perhaps others -- are often considered synonyms. One indication of this is that searching for any of the four terms in the Wikipedia web site transfers the visitor to their web site's "religious freedom" section. In this web site we will also consider religious freedom and religious liberty to have the same meaning -- to be true synonyms. We will prefer the term "religious freedom."

Many people consider religious freedom/liberty to be the most important religious dispute of our time. Unfortunately, there are two very different meanings of religious liberty/freedom:

  • A historical meaning and

  • A rapidly evolving new meaning:

Thus, we really need two terms in English to describe religious liberty/freedom. We suggest:

  • Religious freedom, and

  • Religious freedom to discriminate and denigrate.

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thumbs up image1. Overview of the historical meaning of religious freedom, and how widespread such freedom is today:

The term relates to the personal freedom:

  • Of religious belief,

  • Of religious speech,

  • Of religious assembly with fellow believers,

  • Of religious proselytizing and recruitment, and

  • To change one's religion from one faith group to another -- or to decide to have no religious affiliation -- or vice-versa.

On 1948-DEC-10, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 18 says that:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes the freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance."

The vast majority of countries around the world have ratified the UDHR. However, as of 2014:

  • 13 countries still execute people found "guilty" of openly revealing that they do not believe in God or who follow a religion other than the state religion. All are predominately Muslim: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

  • Many more countries in the world have blasphemy laws that can put people in jail for their speech or writing if it offends religious believers. For example, in the European Union:

    "Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Malta and Poland ... allow for jail sentences up to three years on charges of offending a religion or believers."

    Even Canada has a blasphemy law on the books, although it hasn't been used in many decades.

  • In some states like India, police are:

    "... often reluctant or unwilling to investigate murders of Atheists carried out by religious fundamentalists."

The individual believer has often been the target of oppression for thinking or speaking unorthodox thoughts, for assembling with and recruiting others, and for changing their religious affiliation. Typically, the aggressors have been large religious groups and governments. Freedom from such oppression is the meaning that we generally use on this web site to refer to any of the four terms: religious freedom, religious liberty, freedom of worship and freedom to worship.

Typical examples from the past in North America were:

  • Mass attacks on, and murders by other Christians that victimized members of The Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints -- (a.k.a. LDS, Mormons) -- in the mid-19th Century. Much of the violence was based on the LDS use of the Book of Mormon to supplement the Bible. This eventually resulted in the migration of about 70.000 LDS members to the midwest who settled in what is now Utah.

  • High levels of hatred, violence, and arson directed against the Roman Catholic Church in the late 19th century, largely by Protestants.

  • Restrictions once enforced by the U.S. and Canadian governments on religious practices by Native Americans.

  • Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses during World War II, particularly in Quebec, Canada. Many of these conflicts led to lawsuits that defined the limits of religious freedom that North Americans enjoy today.

  • Persecution directed against Wiccans and other NeoPagans during the 1980's and 1990's. because of the Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax which incorrectly linked Neopagans to Satanists, and linked Satanists to the ancient myth of Satanic worship and criminal acts during the Middle Ages. The Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax was triggered in 1980 by the book "Michelle Remembers." It went into major decline in 1995 when the police and others realized that no proof existed that such abuse actually happened.

Lack of religious freedom is very widespread elsewhere in the world, where a person can be executed for changing their religion, for criticizing the established state religion, or for suggesting that the locally worshiped God does not exist, or that God is in the form of a Trinity or for suggesting that many deities exist.

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thumbs down image2. A rapidly emerging new meaning of religious freedom: the freedom to discriminate and denigrate:

In recent years, religious freedom is taking on a new meaning: the freedom and liberty of a believer apply their religious beliefs in order to hate, oppress, deny service to, denigrate, discriminate against, and/or reduce the human rights of minorities.

Now, the direction of the oppression has reversed. It is now the believer who is the oppressor -- typically fundamentalist and evangelical Christians and other religious conservatives. Others -- typically some women, as well as sexual, and other minorities -- are the targets. This new meaning is becoming increasingly common. It appears that this change is begin driven by a number of factors:

  • The increasing public acceptance of women's use of birth control/contraceptives. This is a practice regarded as a personal decision by most faith groups, but is actively opposed by the Roman Catholic and a few other conservative faith groups.

  • The increasing public acceptance of equal rights for sexual minorities including Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender persons and transsexuals -- the LGBT community (); and

  • The increasing percentage of NOTAs in North America. These are individuals who are NOT Affiliated with an organized faith group. Some identify themselves as Agnostics, Atheists secularists, Humanists, free thinkers, etc. Others say that they are spiritual, but not religious.

    The media often refer to NOTAs as "NONES" because they are affiliated to NONE of the faith groups. However, the words Nones and Nuns are homophones: words that sound alike but are spelled differently and which hold very different meanings. To avoid confusion, we recommend against this practice and recommend the unambiguous term "NOTA."

One interesting feature of this "religious freedom to discriminate" is that it generally has people treating others as they would not wish to be treated themselves. It seems to be little noticed among those who practice or advocate "religious freedom to discriminate" that this way of treating people is a direct contradiction to the Golden Rule, which Jesus required all his followers to practice. See Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, and the Gospel of Thomas, 6.

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Topics covered in this section:

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The new meaning of the terms "religious freedom" and "religious liberty":

The freedom to discriminate and oppress others on religious grounds << Sadly, a large & growing section

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The traditional meaning of the term: to believe, associate with others, and practice religion freely:

bullet Status of religious freedom:

Snapshot of religious freedom worldwide during 2010:


Status of religious freedom in the U.S.

bullet Decline of religious freedom in Europe

bullet The U.S. government vs. individual religious freedom

bullet Freedom House report on religious freedom

bullet Religious freedom and the year 2000 presidential candidates

bullet Lack of religious freedom in France

bullet Changing one's religion from Islam to another faith (Irtidad)

bullet Religious clothing and jewelry in U.S. public schools

bullet Canadian religious groups' freedom to discriminate against same-sex marriage
bullet Statements, speeches, petitions, etc. on religious freedom, tolerance, and intolerance:
bullet Excerpts:
bullet Excerpts of statements on religious freedom
bullet In the United States:
bullet National Religious Freedom Day: JAN-16

bullet Guaranteeing personal religious freedom

bullet Petition to regain and preserve religious freedom

bullet Williamsburg Charter on the First Amendment (1988)

bullet U.N. report on religious freedom in the U.S. (1998)

bullet Speech by President Clinton on religious freedom (1995)

bullet Proclamation on diversity and tolerance in Cedar Rapids, IA.

bullet Personal pledge of support for religious freedom
bullet International:
bullet Declaration of a Global Ethic (1993)

Excerpts from "The Principles of a Global Ethic"

bullet International Religious Freedom Day

bullet Statement by UNESCO, on the "Year of Tolerance" (1995)

bullet Statement by Pope John Paul II on the World Day of Peace, (1996)

bullet Statement by the U.S. on freedom of religion in Europe (1999)

bullet The Amman Declaration (1999) concerning the Middle East

bullet The Geneva Spiritual Appeal (1999) on an end to religious conflict
bullet laws and regulations guaranteeing, limiting, or promoting religious freedom:
bullet 1777 Thomas Jefferson's bill for religious freedom in Virginia

bullet 1786 Virginia's "Act for Establishing Religious Freedom"

bullet The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

bullet Religious freedom restoration acts

bullet Workplace Religious Freedom Act *

bullet U.S. "Freedom from Religious Persecution Act"

bullet Religious rights within the US military

bullet Excerpts of laws guaranteeing religious freedom
bullet Other topics:
bullet Links to web sites dealing with religious freedom


An essay donated by Susan Humphreys: "Do people have the right to believe anything they want? Does religious freedom include the right to hurt others?"

bullet Brief quotations about tolerance

bullet Reducing religion-inspired religious conflicts

bullet Religious tolerance and freedom chain letter

bullet Constitutional amendment on religious freedom & compulsory prayer
bullet Related topics:
bullet Religiously motivated religious conflict, oppression, & discrimination menu

bullet Religious laws of the U.S., Canada and other nations

Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Dirk Johnson, "Trials for Parents Who Chose Faith Over Medicine,"  New York Times, 2009-JAN-20, at:

  2. Michael Worley, "My view: Same-sex marriage decisions and 3 attacks on religious freedom," Deseret News, 2014-JAN-12, at:

  3. Ken Ham, "Religious freedom under attack ,,, again," Answers in Genesis, 2014-OCT-24, at:

  4. Posted on the Facebook "Winning Democrats" on 2015-NOV-22. Within 16 hours it had received 15,360 likes and 7,199 shares. See:
  5. Luisa Morco, "Atheists Face Death Penalty In 13 Countries, Discrimination Around The World According To Freethought Report," Huffington Post, 2014-JAN-25, at:

Site navigation:

Home > here

or Home > Important essays > here

or Home > Religious information > here

or Home > Human rights > here

Copyright © 2006 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-NOV-05
Latest update: 2016-OCT-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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