Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An Offense Against Religious Freedom and Tolerance

Switzerland recently voted to ban the construction of Muslim minarets. They reasoned that the minarets are symbols of a radical religion bent on violence and terrorism. I guess the money quote from that article is this:
"The minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls," the sponsors said. They said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared mosques to Islam's military barracks and called "the minarets our bayonets."
I've got to say that this is incredibly disturbing to me and represents a line of thinking that could be used against any religion in the future. The Swiss have taken a religion with a billion peaceful adherents and boiled them all down to intolerant genital mutilators and taken away their right to practice their religion.

Using this line of reasoning, we could ban any new construction of Catholic cathedrals because they are a sign of political power, comparable to pedophilia and the Crusades, and are just training grounds for future child molesters.

We could do the same with Mormon temples or any other religious place of worship. No religion is free from mistakes or radicals, but the same is true of just about any other institution. Democracies have institutionalized slavery and war. Charities have funded fraud and embezzlement. We are not suggesting banning the construction of new government buildings or stopping the creation of new charities. But it is much easier to go after religions, because they are based on faith, which public policy has a hard time grasping.

And the threat to religions comes from both sides of the political spectrum. The attack on Islam in Switzerland came from the extreme right. The extreme right here in America has a similar view of Islam and would similarly love to wipe the religion out. There was also the harsh treatment of Mormonism by the conservative right fundamentalists precipitated by the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. Likewise, the extreme left has an uneasy relationship with religion because it (the extreme left) is trending more and more secular and does not care for fixed moralism. So on one extreme side you have the desire to exterminate all religions except for the one (usually fundamental Protestantism) that you believe is most correct, and on the other you have the desire to exterminate all religions equally.

Of course neither is right. And while I don't believe that our freedom of religion is under attack, and I don't feel like, as a Mormon or a believer in general, that I am a second-class citizen, it is fairly clear how the extremists would make it happen like they did in Switzerland to Muslims. I don't think it is too alarmist to suggest, then, that we should be on the lookout for offenses against our freedom of religion in America, like that in Switzerland.

But part of this falls on the religious, as well, to behave in such a way that makes it easy for us to retain our freedoms. The religious, and Mormons in particular, should be acutely aware of how any hint of religious in-fighting, an attempt to legislate our beliefs, moral superiority, or intolerance of other beliefs systems (including atheism) can open the door, fairly or unfairly, to limiting religious freedom.


Josh said...

Did we all become Swiss citizens overnight? Why do we care what happens in Switzerland? It is only the most peaceful country in the world, what could we learn there? The Swiss enjoy one of, if not the lowest crime rates in the world.

I admit, I would not like this serious threat to religion if I lived in Switzerland. However, you have stated that the US should emulate France, China, Canada and England. All of these extremely liberal countries enjoy insanely high crime rates, and are laughably restrictive of their citizens rights to protect themselves. I think we would be much better off to emulate one ever messes with them, and they mind their own business.

cindy said...

If you look at what has happened and is happening in Europe with the huge influx of Muslim immigrants, you can better understand the reaction of the Swiss. While I see your point about potential loss of religious freedom, I also see a very real threat to something even more valuable -- freedom of speech. When a religion wants to impose its "rule of law" on others and is willing to resort to violence to do so, that puts an end to freedom of speech. And that is what they're facing in some countries in Europe. A comment about Islamic law, the Koran, or maybe a cartoon drawing of Muhammad can result in rioting and death threats not only against the one who said it, but those who dared to publish it. At the very least, you would be denounced as Islamophobic. Even in the U.S., we walk on tiptoes to not offend our Muslim brothers and defend certain practices allowed by the Koran and Islamic law as being part of their culture. In the spirit of mulitculturalism we can't possibly speak about our concerns. And, yes, I agree that we should treat others with respect and try not to give offfense, yet, I cannot agree with any religion that condones or encourages wife-beating, the stoning of adulteresses, and the murder of homosexuals and apostates. Do most Muslims do these things? Absolutely not. But do most Muslims speak out against these practices? Unfortunately not. There are communities and neighborhoods in Europe, including in England, that you could say are run not by the rule of the land, but by Islamic law. In the name of tolerance, they are losing very basic freedoms we take for granted. So which do we value more? The pilgrims came so they could worship as they wished, but they also came to be able to speak out against that which didn't agree with their beliefs and to be able to do so without fear of imprisionment or even death.

grayfox said...

>Did we all become Swiss citizens overnight?

>Why do we care [about a minaret ban] in Switzerland?
Switzenland needs to be called out on their singling out of a single religion for special (negative) treatment.

That the Swiss enjoy one of the lowest crimes rates is a non sequitar, unless you are implying that their low crime rate is due to their current attempt to ban muslim minarets (which would be insane).

The rest is again a big non sequitar.

Josh said...

Wow, big words!

I didn't say that I agreed with their attempt to ban a religion - or at least to ban the members of that religion places to "worship." I merely said that Switzerland would be a much better place to emulate, as a nation, than, say, France! You liberals are always talking about world peace. Well, when was the last time Switzerland had peace problems?

Still, don't we have much bigger issues here at home than worrying about whether or not Muslims in another country are allowed to build their places of worship?

Anonymous said...

I served in France. I lived in Muslim neighborhoods. I understand the theological and secular differences, many which cannot be reconciled. I also agree with both points of view as clearly debated in the comments before mine; banning a religion who's goal is to change it's hosts government vs maintaining religious freedom. In all of history we've tried to contain this with borders and flags.

While I agree it's important to continue this discussion. I think we are overlooking the fact that banning the construction of towers is not the same as banning the constructions of Mosques. Muslims will continue to be to worship in their proper buildings.