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Fundamental Human Right: Religious Freedom

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The concept of religious freedom is self-explanatory; it is the freedom to practice one’s own religion. It protects people’s right to live, speak, and act according to their beliefs peacefully and publicly. It protects their ability to be themselves at work, in class, and at social activities. Various religions can be found around the world with the major religions as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. Each religion has a different concept of God as well as different lifestyles as guided by their religious leaders, which in turn influences their own interests, activities, opinions, and attitude. While the majority of civilized and developed societies today have succeeded in establishing respect and understanding about the different religious beliefs amongst their population, there still exist in many areas around the world intolerable attitudes towards other religions and their lifestyles with many conflicts still unresolved.

Religious freedom benefits both individuals and communities. For many, a relationship with God is the most important aspect of their lives, and their faith guides them in values like honesty and responsibility, which impact their families and communities. It encourages them to volunteer at homeless shelters, schools, and other places that help the less fortunate. Restricting religious freedom can have dire consequences. It endangers other civil liberties including free speech, free association, and even economic freedom. Some faith-based social service providers and educational institutions often have core beliefs about issues like marriage, family, and sexuality. Forcing them to compromise their religious commitments would hinder their ability to serve their communities. Freedom of religion not only protects someone’s beliefs, it should also protect their right to act on their beliefs.

Unfortunately, many issues surrounding religion today are the controversies due to the many stories and incidents surrounding religious wars and their resulting toll on emotions, physical calamities, and economics. The wars that we read about in history from the Jews and Christians to some Muslim emperors and leaders that discriminated and violated the Hindu beliefs and lifestyles force religion to be viewed as harmful by many. The majority use it as a source of power and domination over other religious people and their beliefs. A perfect example is the dangerous misunderstanding that Islam and ISIS, a Sunni jihadist group with a particularly violent ideology that calls itself a caliphate and claims religious authority over all Muslims, are united. ISIS used the name of Islam to further their terrorist cause which in turn had given Islam a terrible reputation. In addition, ISIS gave rise to the term ‘Islamic terrorism’, which is often confused with Islam even though several hundred Islamic scholars signed a letter denouncing ISIS and its theological views. Another example is after 9/11, Muslims in the United States faced discrimination because of ‘Islamophobia’ or rising anti-Islamic sentiments. They were subjected to federal policies such as the Patriot Act, the New York Police Department’s Muslim Surveillance Program and the federal National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which required all males 16 or older from 25 countries to register every time they entered and exited the U.S. The process included fingerprinting, photos, providing private financial information and interrogating people about the purpose of entry and nature of their travel outside the country. While this process did not explicitly target any particular religious group, it mostly affected Arabs and Muslims, according to research on the impact of the program that was stopped under the Obama administration. Data from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in the United States shows that Muslims are more likely than any other faith groups to experience religious discrimination in both institutional and interpersonal settings. It is unfortunate that American Muslims also face higher levels of discrimination when applying for jobs (33% of Muslims, 5% of Jews and 8% of faith groups), in interactions with law enforcement (31% of Muslims, 2% of Jews and 8% of others), and even when receiving health care services (25% of Muslims, 5% of Jews and others).

All this is to show that the discrimination has led to restrictions in practicing religion freely which led to widespread backlash. In 2010, France implemented a rule that women are no longer allowed to wear the full Islamic face veil (niqab) in public. So as not to target Islam directly, a general statement was released “concealing the face in public space”. However, this had an opposite effect in that the niqab became more desirable and that some young women found it exciting to defy the law. They felt powerful, defying the forbidden. In France, ‘good’ citizens saw themselves as responsible for enforcing the law and directed threats and even physical violence towards women wearing the niqab. This resulted in standoff between the two sides, which could have been easily avoided if the religious women were left to practice their beliefs freely. This proves that denying religious freedom can cause conflict between members of society.

Freedom of religion can be violated through government restrictions that deny religious freedom to one or more faith communities or through discrimination that target one or more religious communities in a society. In some countries where freedom of religion is not respected, government restrictions exist alongside social hostilities. Recent studies have shown that one-third of countries have high or very high restrictions on freedom of religion. As some of these countries are very populous, nearly 75 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with high restrictions on freedom of religion. In a book titled ‘Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me’ and written by a professor of religion and politics from Bar-Ilhan University, Jonathan Fox, conclusions were drawn on a data set recording the treatment of 771 religious minorities in 183 countries between 1990 and 2014. The data set comprises of 35 types of government-based religious discrimination, which include restrictions on the construction of religious buildings, controls on religious literature and prohibitions on chaplaincy services in prisons. It was discovered that in 162 countries, government-based religious discrimination was perpetrated against 574 of the minorities at some point during the study period.

In the United States, freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits laws establishing a national religion or impeding the free exercise of religion for its citizens. A study by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom has shown that  religious freedom promotes stability in a society filled with people of different backgrounds and belief systems, but when limited, increased violence and conflict occurs (as shown in the niqab issue in France) wherever religious freedom is high, there is more economic prosperity, better health, lower income inequality and prolonged democracy religious freedom directly correlates with the protection afforded other civil and human rights such as freedom of speech. This is why religious freedom is essential, it contributes to a just and free society where tensions are negotiated and people live peacefully with their deepest differences.

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and should be protected at all costs. Religious freedom thrives when the government stays out of religion; matters of religious belief should be left to individuals and faith communities, not to governments or political majorities.

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Fundamental Human Right: Religious Freedom. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from
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