Religions against Religious Freedoms

I’m always surprised that it’s often the most religious of people who are against religious freedoms and liberal humanists and secular folk who are left to argue against discrimination. I probably should not be surprised, but perhaps the constant tirades from the church and “journalists” in newspapers like the Daily Mail complaining about how they ‘re being repressed has had some effect on me.

A case in point is the current debate over equal marriage. The Catholic Church and Church of England are against equal marriage with the latter stating that “the Church’s view remains of marriage as the life-long union between a man and a woman”. Well, that’s fine: nobody is asking you to conduct same-sex marriage. If you do not want to, I have no wish to make you because I respect your religious freedoms.

But by campaigning against allowing same-sex marriage at all, and in particular against religious same-sex marriage, they’re oppressing other religions: Quakers are the example I use because so many spoke up in favour of religious equal marriage at the Liberal Democrat conference debate on Equal Marriage.

It is ironic that the Church of England should engage in this given it was formed due to a difference in opinions over marriage: King Henry VIII wanted to re-marry. Rome said no, so Henry took charge of the Church of England and seceded from papal authority. Nowadays, we have a diverse mix of religions in the United Kingdom and the Church of England does not exert total control over everyone else, so it can’t adopt the Catholic approach. Instead, it has to campaign against religious freedoms in order to impose it’s own moral views on everyone else.

Unfortunately, this tendency is not confined to Christianity. At a Secular and Humanist Liberal Democrat debate at conference last year, there was a ban-the-burqa debate. It was some Muslims who wanted to ban it, whereas I think universally every atheist, humanist and secular person in the audience was highly sceptical. “What about people who want to wear one?”

The theme was repeated at this autumns debate on Sharia law, with some people (Not Liberal Democrats, as far as I could tell!) calling it to be banned in the UK. At the moment, it can only be used by agreement of both sides in arbitration of a civil dispute.

The quality of the debate on the ban-the-law side was rather poor and focused on the fact that under Sharia law, people can be executed. Well, we’re not totally guilt-free on that topic in the Western world – look at America. And just as there is debate in the west on the use of the death penalty, there is debate amongst Sharia scholars about it’s use too.

But in the UK It may not be particularly surprising if I point out that attempting to execute someone as a result of a decision in an arbitration tribunal actually isn’t allowed in the UK. It would be illegal. So they wanted to ban something that’s already illegal? Hmm.

As far as I could tell, the argument seemed to be “I don’t believe in this particular religious thing, so I want to stop others being able to do it voluntarily”. It seems that for many of faith, “religious freedoms” often mean “my religious freedom above all others”.

This is, as with the church’s view on equal marriage, not very Liberal.

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