Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Individual Religious Freedom and National Security in Europe after September 11

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Individual Religious Freedom and National Security in Europe after September 11

Article excerpt


Since the early 1990s, scholars have written about the "revanche de Dieu"1 and the "deprivatization of religion."2 Many stressed that religion, which had been confined to the private sphere of human life, was reacquiring an important role in the public sphere of human life. Citing as examples Iran under Khomeini, Poland under Walesa, and the liberation theologies supporting the revolutionary movements in Central and South America, these scholars have explained how religion, by "leaving its assigned place in the private sphere, had thrust itself into the public arena of moral and political contestation . . . challenging in the name of religion the legitimacy and autonomy of the primary secular spheres, the state and the market economy."3

Violent conflicts are inevitable when religion enters the public arena. Once it became clear what an important role religion could play in the public arena, politicians began using religion to motivate and mobilize people for political, national, and ethnic struggles. The events in the Balkans during the 1990s demonstrated the role religion can play when religious divisions overlap with national and ethnic differences and also showed how eager religious authorities were to exploit religion for political reasons.4

Religiously motivated political struggles provided the foundation for religious terrorism to develop. In the past, religion had occasionally been a component of political, ethnic, or national secular terrorism. In Northern Ireland, religion had been one component, but rarely the central component, of terrorism.5 However, in the last ten to twenty years a new breed of terrorist has appeared: terrorists who are religiously motivated and kill in the name of God.6 In many cases, hope of a supernatural reward makes "religious" terrorists indifferent toward their own lives; they are prepared to die because they are persuaded God will reward their sacrifice with eternal life.7 The most hideous form of violence, directed against defenseless civilians, is inextricably related to religion.

Scholars debate whether religion is the true motivation for terrorism or whether it is a ploy for recruiting followers and a medium by which to amplify the impact of terrorist actions.8 For example, scholars debate whether Osama Bin Laden's agenda is actually religious or whether he uses religion to disguise a political agenda.9 To fight terrorism, it is essential to understand the terrorists' motivations. But the debate about the motivations of terrorist leaders should not make us forget that there are people who are convinced it is legitimate, even compulsory, to kill in the name of God. This conviction on the part of some religious adherents-that religion legitimizes violence-distinguishes modern terrorism and is at the crux of how to balance individual religious freedom and national security.

Many important questions have been raised by the post-September 11 approach to religion and security. Thus, we cannot simply argue that religious liberty is an inviolable right or that basic human rights can only be enjoyed in a secure environment. Both statements are correct but are of little help in finding a balance between the values of freedom and security. Instead, we must determine how we can reconcile religious freedom and national security in a way that makes it possible to simultaneously enjoy them both.

I am convinced that, in the long run, religious liberty helps develop the integration and tolerance that lie at the foundation of a stable and safe society,10 but a democratic society must also ensure that religious liberty does not exploit fundamental human rights.11

Religious movements that have threatened public safety and security have raised similar concerns in the past two decades, and past experience with these types of problems has provided guidance in dealing with post-September 11 security issues. Mass suicides (in Switzerland, for example) and violence (in Waco, Texas, and elsewhere)12 persuaded people that some religions can be evil. …

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