Spirituality, human rights and religious truth
Two meanings of religious freedom/liberty:
1. Freedom of belief, speech, practice.
2. Freedom to restrict services against,
denigrate, or oppress others.
- Judge Vincent Howard, 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 refers here to human rights legislation.)
- Ken Ham. "... 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
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 considered by many people to be 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.
1. The historical meaning of religious freedom:
This 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.
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. 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.
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.
2. 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.
Topics covered in this section:
Information about the two meanings of "religious freedom:"
What about "non-believers?"
Should religious freedom extend to Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, etc. (Currently being written)
Four examples of the conflict:
Two legal cases involving the freedom of religious belief/expression; two involving the freedom to denigrate or refuse to work with others: Part 1 Part 2
Conflicts between the LGBT community and religious & social conservatives:
A fast-rising problem, largely over the supply of same-sex wedding-related goods and services
"Whose religious or secular rights take precedence over other peoples' rights?" An essay donated by Susan Humphreys
An article by Michael Terence Worley about perceived conflicts between religious freedom and same-sex marriage. Part 1 Part 2
The new meaning of the term:
The freedom to discriminate and oppress others on religious grounds << Sadly, a large & growing section
||Status of religious freedom:
||Statements, speeches, petitions, etc. on religious freedom, tolerance, and intolerance:
||In the United States:
|| laws and regulations guaranteeing, limiting, or promoting religious freedom:
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
Dirk Johnson, "Trials for Parents Who Chose Faith Over Medicine," New
York Times, 2009-JAN-20, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
Michael Worley, "My view: Same-sex marriage decisions and 3 attacks on religious freedom," Deseret News, 2014-JAN-12, at: http://www.deseretnews.com/
- Ken Ham, "Religious freedom under attack ,,, again," Answers in Genesis, 2014-OCT-24, at: http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/
Copyright © 2006 to 2015 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-NOV-05
Author: B.A. Robinson