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Religious Tolerance logo

Meanings of "religious freedom" & "religious liberty:"


Determining if "religious freedom" or "religious
liberty" actually mean the freedom or liberty to
discriminate against others, in violation of the
"Ethic or Reciprocity" (a.k.a. the "Golden rule")

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In this web site, the acronym LGBT refers to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender community

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The two meanings of "religious freedom:"

The terms "religious freedom" and its near synonym "religious liberty" used to mean the freedom to hold different religious beliefs, the freedom to assemble with like-minded believers, the freedom to proselytize, etc. However, it now often means to use religious freedom to discriminate against, marginalize, denigrate and/or oppress others.

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Interaction of the "religious freedom to discriminate" and the Golden Rule:

Discrimination against others frequently violates the Ethic of Reciprocity which is more widely known as the Golden Rule.

  • In the largest religion in the world, Christianity, three expressions of the Golden Rule are: 

    • "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12, King James Version.

    • "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." Luke 6:31, King James Version.

    • "...and don't do what you hate...", Gospel of Thomas 6. [The Gospel of Thomas is one of about 40 gospels that circulated among the early Christian movement, but which never made it into the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament)].

  • In the largest religion in the world, Islam:
    • "None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." Number 13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths." Hadiths are sayings of the prophet Muhammad.

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How to differentiate between the two meanings of "religious freedom:"

We recommend that every time you read or hear of a religious conflict in which the phrase "religious freedom" or "religious liberty," you take two actions:

  1. Mentally substitute the phrase "religious freedom to discriminate" or "religious liberty to discriminate," and see if this change matches the facts of the situation.

  2. Ask yourself whether the people claiming that their religious freedom or liberty is being attacked are themselves violating the Ethic of Reciprocity -- a.k.a. Golden Rule -- as taught by Judaism, Christianity, Islam, by all other major religions, and also by most secular systems of morality and ethics.

The result of this simple test will often clarify exactly who are the victims of marginalization, denigration, oppression, or discrimination, and who are its perpetrators.

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Some examples of conflicts:

  • During 2013-SEP, in Quebec Canada, the provincial government announced plans to forbid civil servants from wearing obvious religious clothing or symbols. Examples are large crucifixes, hijabs, turbans, niqabs, kippahs, etc:

Religious clothing and symbols to be forbidden:

forbidden religious clothing & symbols 1

Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Jews complained that this restriction is an attack on their religious freedom of expression. If we ask ourselves whether this means that Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Jews are having their "religious freedom to discriminate" impeded, the answer is no. That makes no sense. In fact, these religious groups are the victims of discrimination. It is the government who are the perpetrators of discrimination.

Here, the government is clearly violating the Golden Rule and disobeying the teachings of essentially all religions and secular systems of morality and ethics. More details.

  • As an increasing number of states in the U.S. attain marriage equality so that loving committed couples -- both same-sex and opposite-sex -- can marry, some businesses in the wedding industry have started to violate their state's human rights laws. A very small percentage of company owners who provide wedding cakes, hall rentals, wedding photography etc. are refusing to sell their products or perform their services for same-sex couples who are getting married. The proprietors and owners usually complain that to comply with the requests of same-sex couples would violate their personal religious freedom. That is because because they interpret the Bible's six "clobber passages" as condemning same-gender sexual behavior. If we ask ourselves whether this means that the owners are having their "religious freedom to discriminate" impeded, the answer is a definite yes.

    Here, the owners are clearly violating the Golden Rule and disobeying the teachings of essentially all religions and secular systems of morality and ethics. A typical case is described elsewhere on this web site. It involves a case in New Mexico involving a wedding photography company and a lesbian couple who wanted photos taken of their private commitment ritual. At the time of the event, in 2007, New Mexico did not allow domestic partnerships, civil unions, or marriage. Their committment ceremony had no legal standing in the state and was not recognized as having religious significance by most faith groups. On 2013-AUG-22, the Supreme Court of New Mexico issued its ruling which found that the owner of the company had violated the state's human rights legislation when the she refused to provide a service that she would have supplied to opposite-sex couples.

  • The U.S. federal Health and Human Services department introduced a mandate requiring that health insurance plans give employees free access to birth control medication including emergency contraception (EC). This became known as the "HHS Mandate." It would give employees a major degree of control over whether or not to have children. It would also significantly reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. which are almost always the result of unwanted and unexpected pregnancies. Leaders in the Roman Catholic Church complained because they consider that taking birth control pills can be a mortal sin. They believed that by facilitating the availability of contraceptives, they would become indirectly involved in sin. They regarded the mandate as an infringement on their religious freedom and launched their "Fortnight of Freedom" campaign. Later, many conservative Protestant denominations and parachurch groups also complained about their religious freedom being restricted by the mandate. This was largely driven by their belief that emergency contraception can induce abortion -- a belief that contradicts the concensus by medical researchers who have studied EC. Researchers have determined that EC sometimes inhibits ovulation, and sometimes inhibits fertilization. But it cannot prevent implantation of the zygote in the inner wall of the uterus. In fact, there is some evidence that it might assist implantation if an ovum has been fertilized. Religious conservatives still often refer to EC as abortifacients.

    Many employers complained that the HHS Mandate is an attack on their religious freedom. If we ask ourselves whether this means that conservative Christian employers are having their "religious freedom to discriminate" impeded, the answer is yes. They want to restrict their employee from having free choice in family planning, which many of the employees would consider to be a form of discrimination and even interference with their religious freedom and ethical medical decisions.

    Here, the employers who are resisting the HHS Mandate are clearly violating the Golden Rule by not meeting their employees wishes, and thus are disobeying the Golden Rule which is taught by essentially all religions and secular systems of morality and ethics.

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Reference used:

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

  1. "Limit the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols," Government of Quebec, undated, at:  Available in French and partially in English.

Site navigation:

Home > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Important essays > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Religious information > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Human rights > Religious Freedom > here

Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2013-OCT-01
Latest update: 2013-OCT-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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