Religion and Human Rights

By Suarez, John M. | Free Inquiry, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Religion and Human Rights


Suarez, John M., Free Inquiry


Fresh from exposing the rampant persecution of Christians in our society (by secularists and Satanists, or are they just one big group?) the radical religious Right, through their representatives in Congress, are now focusing globally. They have managed to add the denial of religious freedom to the category of human rights abuses, and the State Department annual report on worldwide violations now includes it. An advisory board on religions and human rights has been formed. A bill has been introduced that would create a White House Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring. Its goal is to identify countries engaging in religious persecution, with economic sanctions to follow.

Those of us who are pleased with the results of the experiment called the First Amendment should, on first glance, approve of this development. After all, if the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses work so well for us, we would hope that they would be adopted by every society. On closer examination of the fine print, we find, not surprisingly, that the promoters seem to be exclusively concerned with the persecution of Christians. Christians are indeed persecuted and/or denied fights in some areas of the world, but so are the followers of many other religions.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics For A Free Choice, has pointed out an even more troublesome conflict. She reminds us that, over time, just as states have violated the rights of religious believers, so have many religious institutions violated the human rights and personal dignity of some of their own members, most commonly women. This creates a dilemma for those of us who advocate a full slate of human rights and the free exercise of religion. She adds, "while the ability to express one's spirituality, moral values, and religious beliefs freely - without state interference - has long been understood as a fundamental human right, human rights theory has simply not, at this stage, advanced to the point that discrimination within a religious institution is seen as an issue of public justice, an appropriate case for state or legal action. …

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