Over the past several months, Religious Freedom has been one of the most prescient topics in the minds of many. People nationwide are having full-fledged meltdowns at the idea of baking a cake for a couple who view things differently than they do (Link), and a pea-brained Kentucky clerk has managed to convince a bunch of hysterical nitwits that she’s some kind of martyr (Link). At the same time, we observe mass hysteria at the entirely misguided notion that Sharia Law is coming to the West (Link).
Happily, much of this uncertainty is being put to rest even as we speak. With the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (Link), the Western World has done much to define how we will soon interact with the very populations we claim to fear the most.
The RFRA was passed in part to ‘protect’ Christians from being forced into such heinous and sinful behaviours as baking cakes for loving couples in a public bakery, or issuing a marriage-license at the county registry. See, to be expected to do your job for any member of the public interested in utilizing your services has of late been perceived as religious-persecution. If this is true, then the only thing we can glean of the religious convictions held here is that they demand first-refusal rights for persecution itself.
Yet the ploy has been working. While there can be no argument made that people in any civil society must be free to worship in any way they see fit (assuming no harm to others), we must be careful about the extremes we go to in protecting these rights, and more especially, the ways in which we define them.
Over the next few years or decades, we will inevitably see a great influx of Muslim immigrants—and understandably so (Link). Just as we must for any influx of people, we will need to learn how to coexist with these folks; setting up fair and equitable boundaries which allow for their comfort and ours alike.
Much as we see in ‘China Towns’ and other such cultural hubs, some level of independence must be afforded to any emerging population. Yet many in the west are understandably paranoid about the active assertion of ‘Sharia Law’ on our soil.
Now at the present, I consider this a hysterical over-reaction, but the current machinations of the right wing are actually doing much to strengthen the possibility.
As the religious right defines its adherence to age old biases as a ‘fight for religious freedom’, and asserts new laws protecting this notion, they are laying the groundwork for similar legal enforcements of other religions—one expression of which could conceivably be Sharia law.
Protection to practice religion is a fundamental right in any decent country, but it must be clear that this will not be limited to the most popular religion—nor should it. Everyone must be afforded the right to practice as they choose—so long as it does not affect another. Passing laws that allow Christians to refuse the sale of a product on an open counter to a gay person sets a terrible precedent: one that the courts could (and by rule of precedent doubtless should) use to justify the banning of ‘infidels’ from Muslim operated stores, and other such seemingly inconceivable rulings. If this is not the precedent we want to set for our growing minority populations, then it mustn’t be what we practice for ourselves. Any public storefront should be available to all—just as a non-Asian citizen is not barred from entering a restaurant in Chinatown.
As we go forth defining the ways in which we legislate behaviour and respect, we would do well to bear in mind the broader implications of our attempts. Currently, debate rages over the display of the Confederate Flag (Link), and this is another example of how our rulings on local issues will do much to define our interactions with foreign influences. Ultimately, the Muslim community may have an entirely legitimate claim that depicting the prophet Mohammed constitutes a hate crime under the same sort of laws which prevent Nazi sympathizing and holocaust denial in much of Europe. This is a slippery slope to be sure, but one we must navigate nonetheless.
The question is—where does it end? Common paranoia paints a picture of an America destitute of pork products, while strict public dress codes are enforced by threat of corporal punishment. This certainly may seem absurd to anyone who is not a strict adherent to Islam. Equally absurd to the non-Christian population is the notion of getting up-in-arms over a rainbow on a cake.
If it bothers you, consider simply looking away when you see men kissing (or women kissing…or anything else you may see). Alternatively, consider simply choosing not to order the pork option on a menu if it is against your religion. Such concessions as these are ones we have to make for the simple fact that we live in a society. And that moreover, is the essential point here.
The most effective place for Religion is to help us in coping with society, not in controlling it. As long as we continue to insist otherwise, it is imperative to remember that the way we define our relationship between the law and our currently-dominant religion will ultimately define how we interact with every other religion as well.
So for the sake of us all, let’s keep an open mind here people.
-Brad OH Inc.