Funnily enough, I am writing this entry against atheists, not against religious people, because I am sick of being told by other atheists that religious people have the right to hurt their children, hurt women, and hurt society in the name of their religion. It’s sickening and it’s wrong. “Religious freedom” is code for woman-hating, and anyone who supports “religious freedom” is a woman-hater.
What arguments are used to defend “religious freedom”? The most popular is that people should be allowed to “follow their conscience.”
First, why are we supposed to “follow our conscience” in religious matters, but the law in all other matters? This is clearly a fallacy of Special Pleading. We don’t accept the “conscience” excuse for murderers, rapists or fraudsters, but somehow it’s supposed to be acceptable for physical or sexual assault against children and women, child trafficking, brainwashing, hate speech, and other sorts of unsavory suffering-inducing policies, but of course we draw the line right up at murder. What is the difference between a child abuser who is doing it in the name of religion and a child abuser who is doing it in the name of discipline or anger? Both actions are criminal regardless of the motivation.
Second, “conscience” is the incorrect term to use in this case. We are after all talking about religious believers, who have voluntarily decided to silence their conscience in favor of religious dogma. So to claim that these people are “following their conscience” is ridiculous. If they did follow their conscience, they wouldn’t be abusing children, women, and people in vulnerable positions. To say otherwise is asinine.
Another argument would be, in general terms, voluntaryism: the position that we should be free to pursue our own happiness, truth, or whatever, and that therefore government should not intervene in these areas. As an Anarchist, I am sympathetic to such an argument, but it relies on the heavily-used fallacy that anomie is freedom. As I’ve argued before, anomie is tyranny, not freedom, and the voluntaryists have it exactly backwards. This is not to say that dictatorships are freedom, either, but dictatorships are not rule-based; rules always get in the way of the wanton exercise of power. Government in general is extremely bad at making fair rules and pretty bad at keeping them.
That fallacy aside, I sympathize with the argument, as I mentioned, but I reject it because “religious freedom” inevitably means attacking other people’s rights. Sure you’re free to pursue your own happiness or truth, but you’re not free to enforce your beliefs about how to be happy or how to find truth on other people.
It’s also another instance of Special Pleading. Why is religious freedom necessary for the pursuit of happiness, but not economic freedom or political freedom, amongst other freedoms? Why not permit any crime in the name of those freedoms too? Instead, we persecute with vigor most people who pursue these. Furthermore, why is this policy of allowing total freedom not granted to the victims of “religious freedom” as well? This is a proof that the concept of “religious freedom” is not about freedom but about class, enforcing the hierarchies set in stone by religious dogma (God rules over men, who rule over women, who rule over children). Because organized religion relentlessly seeks to destroy morality, anomie in the political arena often leads to religious tyranny.
Another argument is the separation of Church and State. If the State should not make laws regarding religion, so the reasoning goes, then it should allow religious people to do whatever they justify with religious reasons. But this is simplistic. The fact that the State should not make laws regarding religion does not mean that it should close its eyes to any crime committed in the name of religion. This reasoning buys into the assumption that religious dogma is exempt from examination, and is therefore circular.
Yet another argument is that sifting between those religious actions which are allowable, and those which are not, can only lead to social strife. To this I can only answer “duh.” All rules lead to strife, no matter the game, because there will always be disagreements. The point of making social rules is not to make everyone happy or to have everyone agree, but rather to protect everyone’s rights and ensure fairness, to make membership to society potentially profitable for everyone. Everyone may not be happy about it and everyone may not agree, especially if they are motivated by religious dogma. Frankly, that is not a problem that needs appeasement. One does not need to appease people after condemning their crimes as crimes.
What is the alternative? Pretty simple. A person’s religion should not be relevant to the enforcement of social rules any more than their height, weight, hair color, or shoe size. Assault is assault, murder is murder, rape is rape, whether it’s motivated by religion or not.