Freedom to criticize Religion

My religion divided by your religion equals war

In all modern democracies, one of fundamental citizen rights is that of a Religious freedom. There is no state-backed religion and there is no discrimination of people based on their religious beliefs. At least in writing, as something similar is undoubtedly written into Constitution of your own Country.

For example in my native Croatia, Article 40 of our Constitution says:

“Jamči se sloboda savjesti i vjeroispovijedi i slobodno javno očitovanje vjere ili drugog uvjerenja.”

which roughly translated means that freedom of consciousness and religion and free public display of said religion or other  belief is guaranteed. Or in the US, with the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This is, of course, an important right. Let’s just remind ourselves briefly why. There was no small amount of instances through history when people who had the religion different than the majority was persecuted and executed. This is still practised today in some countries, for example, Burma, where intolerance, discrimination and violence against Muslims is provoked by the Buddhist community (PDF). (ah, those religions of peace …). So, I believe we can all agree that freedom of Religion is important.

The thing is, Freedom of Religion also ensures the rights of people to change their minds about their religion. This basically means, if you have another religious idea, other than the one you currently practice, you are free to act upon that idea and leave your old idea behind, you are free to change your religion.

So, this is to me evidence that as far as countries are concerned, Religion is and should be only an idea and it should have no more privilege when it comes to criticism than for example, politics. And we all know that a lot of politicians leave their old political parties behind, only to spew criticism on them from afar.

This is only one example. You can criticize everything, so why should only Religion be spared? Why is Religion the only thing nothing bad can be said about?

Well, clearly this should NOT be the case because there’s also another very, very important freedom and that is the Freedom of expression, or to quote Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

So, Freedom to form an opinion and to express yourself about it, is a Universal Human Right. Just try to imagine the world where Criticism of Religion is forbidden. Or, on second thought, imagination is not necessary. This is a world where bloggers go to jail or are executed for insulting Prophet Mohammad and it’s very real indeed. This may sound extreme and you might say … “Nah, this happens in backwards-oriented holes only”, but this is exactly what would happen when an idea is above criticism.

Snake and an Apple

It’s not that difficult to imagine someone claiming that their religion commands them to kill another religion and nothing can be said about it. Or when somebody uses Religion to ensure financial gains and nothing can be said against it.

But if you think about it, this Freedom to Criticize Religion is not even that huge and not a lot of people should really be offended because people who criticize religion often do not criticize persons having that religion, but the religion itself. Even if it was a criticism of a person, it’s not normal to think that you should never be criticized. People are criticized all the time. But, like I said before, it’s perfectly possible to respect a person and care about her, while at the same time ridicule a Belief she has.

Please NOTE, that no one is advocating discrimination of someone based on their religion. This would not only be illegal, it would be deeply unethical. But anyone should be allowed to say things others might not like. People hearing this criticism might even start to think for themselves and leave their ancient beliefs and prejudice behind. It’s a longshot, but theoretically, it could happen. Criticism of ideas is the very essence of free speech and democracy and some of us intend to use it to try and ensure that people of this world care about science, reason and the truth more than about ancient superstitions.

A society which discriminates or limits the rights of people who criticize religion is not a democratic society. And a democratic society is something we want to be. We want a society based on reason, free thought and free expression and not silencing someone who wants to be critical of Religion is an essential part of being that type of Society.

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