Christopher Hitchens: “Freedom of Religion – No Thanks”

There is a thought provoking article by Christopher Hitchens that was published in Slate on 6th Sept (Yes, OK, I’m a slow reader, even if it is 2 days later, I get there eventually).

Do you truly believe in “Freedom of Religion? Without giving it too much thought, the immediate off the cuff remark might be “Well yes”, because a “No” answer might imply you believe in censorship or even a dictatorship that tells you what you can and cannot believe.  Well, think again, its well worth reading it.

While we should all embrace the concept of freedom of thought (people are free to believe whatever they want), that does not in any way give anybody the right to use religious belief as justification for discrimination on the basis of race, or sexual orientation, or to harm others. He makes a brilliant case for this and gives some great examples:

Take an example close at hand, the absurdly named Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More usually known as the Mormon church, it can boast Glenn Beck as one of its recruits. He has recently won much cheap publicity for scheduling a rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. But on the day on which the original rally occurred in 1963, the Mormon church had not yet gotten around to recognizing black people as fully human or as eligible for full membership. (Its leadership subsequently underwent a “revelation” allowing a change on this point, but not until after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.) This opportunism closely shadowed an earlier adjustment of Mormon dogma, abandoning its historic and violent attachment to polygamy. Without that doctrinal change, the state of Utah was firmly told that it could not be part of the Union. More recently, Gov. Mitt Romney had to assure voters that he did not regard the prophet, or head of the Mormon church, as having ultimate moral and spiritual authority on all matters. Nothing, he swore, could override the U.S. Constitution. Thus, to the extent that we view latter-day saints as acceptable, and agree to overlook their other quaint and weird beliefs, it is to the extent that we have decidedly limited them in the free exercise of their religion.


One could cite some other examples, such as those Christian sects that disapprove of the practice of medicine. Their adult members are generally allowed to die while uttering religious incantations and waving away the physician, but, in many states, if they apply this faith to their children—a crucial element in the “free exercise” of religion—they can be taken straight to court.

And as for Islam …

It is, first, a religion that makes very large claims for itself, purporting to be the last and final word of God and expressing an ambition to become the world’s only religion. Some of its adherents follow or advocate the practice of plural marriage, forced marriage, female circumcision, compulsory veiling of women, and censorship of non-Muslim magazines and media.

Reactions from even “moderate” Muslims to criticism are not uniformly reassuring. “Some of what people are saying in this mosque controversy is very similar to what German media was saying about Jews in the 1920s and 1930s,” Imam Abdullah Antepli, Muslim chaplain at Duke University, told the New York Times. Yes, we all recall the Jewish suicide bombers of that period, as we recall the Jewish yells for holy war, the Jewish demands for the veiling of women and the stoning of homosexuals, and the Jewish burning of newspapers that published cartoons they did not like.

The taming and domestication of religion is one of the unceasing chores of civilization.

I’ve simply pulled out a few highlights from the article, so if these few humble snippets have whetted your appetite for more, then click here to read the full article in Slate … and of course my apologies for taking two days to find this for you.

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