The Extent of Healthy Religious Freedom: A Compromise
In many countries such as Canada, the US, France, the UK and so on, religion falls under the upheld fundamental freedoms. In Canada and the US for example the freedom of religion and conscience includes the practice of one’s religion. Of course this freedom is extremely necessary in today’s globalized world; people from all different cultures and religions become members of these countries and are- rightly so- able to practice the religion they desire or can equally choose not to practice a religion. Furthermore, history shows that America was mostly built on the basis of religious freedom as most of the British colonists that came to America in the 1600s were fleeing religious persecution.
However today, issues with freedom of religion surround us. Take for example how US presidents always finish a speech with “God bless America”; would an atheist -or even agnostic- candidate ever win enough votes to be president in this country? I really do not think that such a candidate could become president in the US even though the constitution clearly outlines a separation of church and state and a freedom of religion (or lack thereof). Additionally, all of the rhetoric from certain GOP candidates since the Paris attacks in November 2015 have described intentions of discriminating legally against those of a certain religion: Islam. Donald Trump, notorious for his controversial and insulting comments, came out in December 2015 to say that he wanted to bar Muslim refugees from entering the country. Although many speculate that this could never be allowed and would not be passed by Congress, the fact that such potentially powerful people would even propose this anti-freedom-of-religion idea is rather worrying to those concerned about freedom, which oddly enough are those same GOP candidates (or at least they say they are worried about freedoms).
However terrible a lack of freedom of religion may be, we cannot ignore the potentially dangerous consequences of total freedom of religion. For most countries that do have freedom of religion, being allowed to practice that religion is a key aspect. Yet some people take their religion to extremes and ultimately result in significant physical harm to themselves or others. According to a National Public Radio (NPR) article, after a bout of measles swept across Philadelphia in 1991, a school run by the Faith Tabernacle Congregation refused to immunize the students- many of whom were infected and some dangerously ill. Doctors who heard about this case went to the homes of the children to strongly recommend treatment and immunization, yet many parents refused on the basis of their faith; they did not “believe” in modern medicine and instead relied on the power of their faith and God to heal their dying children. In this case, the parents’ and community leaders’ faith was risking the children’s lives. As it turned out though, the students were forced to receive the vaccination by a court of law even though it went against the parents’ religion. If there had been total freedom of religion in this case, many of these children could have died, yet luckily for the children too young to decide for themselves, freedom of religion is only upheld to a certain point.
Like with many issues, the need to realize the pros and cons of both limited freedom and complete freedom of religion is imperative. The dangers of both extremes are significant. Allowing people to practice their faith in a peaceful manner is necessary, yet intervention is called for when religion begins to infringe negatively on the lives and rights of others.
Kelto, Anders. “Why A Court Once Ordered Kids Vaccinated Against Their Parents’ Will.” NPR. NPR, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016. <http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/02/19/386040745/why-a-court-once-ordered-kids-vaccinated-against-their-parents-will>.