Social Justice Challenge, Month 1: Religious Freedom

This month, among other things, I joined the Social Justice Challenge. I’m not sure I’m entirely the sort of person who usually joins these challenges; this is mostly a private journal, and not at all a literary-review blog or anything which generates even the slightest bit of internet traffic – a blip on the world wide radar, that’s me. In spite of this, though, I felt moved to join up largely because it sounds like a wonderful, mind-expanding challenge, and god knows I can never resist one of those.

In essence, the idea is as follows:

We have chosen to focus each month on a different area of social injustice in the world. During that month, we are asking that you read something from the list of resources or watch something suggested by that month’s host. That will complete step one of this challenge: Learn.

Throughout the month we will also be posting ways you can make a difference in this area. Don’t worry, we will provide several different options at many different levels of commitment. The important thing is to take an action step towards doing something to change things! That fulfills step 2–Take Action.

We realize that as the year goes on some months will be busier for you than others. Some themes may be more important to you personally than others. So the challenge is customizable each month to fit your needs by the month.

When you sign up the Social Justice Challenge you are committing to 12 months participation. The amount you participate each month, however, is up to you.

The theme for this month is Religious Freedom. As part of this they have asked participants to answer a number of questions.

  • What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of religious freedom?
  • The first thing I think of, when I hear the phrase “religious freedom,” is another similar phrase: “freedom from religion.” As an atheist, I feel very strongly about the absolute right of individuals to choose their own religious beliefs, and their equal right to express those beliefs without risk of violence or discrimination — provided such expression does not infringe on the rights of others. To imprison, abuse or otherwise rob said individuals of these rights is ethically unconscionable and should not be supported by any civilized society. However, I also believe that religion is in some cases given too much freedom in our society, and this is something that should stop. Just because it is someone’s religious belief that, for example, girls should be circumcised or cover their faces, or that abortion is murder, does not mean they should have a free pass to do as they please without criticism. What religious freedom truly means to me is the removal of religious beliefs from taboo or sacred cow status; the ability to critically examine, evaluate and discuss religious beliefs without reprisal. A world where death threats are issued for the depiction of a religious figure in a cartoon is not a world of religious freedom.

  • What knowledge do you have of present threats to religious freedom in our world today?
  • Most of my knowledge is derived from atheistic blogs and therefore covers atheists’ perspectives. One thing which many of us see as a threat is what some might call “political correctness.” We sometimes forget that nobody has an inalienable right not to be offended, and I feel that in our efforts not to “offend” radical groups (who have the added charm of threatening to blow up public buildings if slighted) we have compromised the basic principles of free speech. I’m not talking about America here, by the way, since I am not American – by “we” I mean the West in general. The religious defamation resolution adopted recently by the United Nations is a case in point. Not only does it not offer protection to non-believers or apostates, but it elevates the victimless crime of blasphemy to ridiculous levels. Insults may be offensive, but they are not a crime and should not be treated as such.

    The greatest danger to religious freedom to my mind is quite simple: religion itself. The more different religions jockey for power, the more they try to forcibly convert others to their way of thinking, the more innocent civilians will get caught in the crossfire. It is my opinion that only when governments recognize the diversity of their populace and religion is thoroughly divorced from politics and power will true freedom be a possibility. Religious beliefs should not be regulated by external forces.

  • Why does religious freedom matter to you?
  • What’s that old adage? “I don’t agree with your opinion, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to hold it.” Or something like that. Religious freedom is important to me because it is a facet of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, two of the things I (being a writer) am most passionate about. People should be allowed to believe the moon is made of green cheese if they so desire; to attempt to control what they think and believe by coercion (be it subtle or blatant) is not only in violation of those rights but entirely unjust.

  • Have you chosen a book or resource to read for this month?
  • Not yet, but I will be scouring the resource list and the library shelves for something appropriate. I plan to participate at Activist level for this month, and possibly all twelve, depending on how busy I get.

I’m looking forward to a great year of reading and consciousness-raising with this challenge!

~black sheep

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  1. You are an articulate and thoughtful writer. I agree that atheists are entitled to the same respect and protection as adherents of any other belief system. that any kind of coercion — whether blatant or subtle — is unacceptable.

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