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A Critical Response to Shirley Richards: Religious Freedoms Under Threat

Human Freedoms under threat!

I refer to your article dated Sunday 13 December, 2009 by Shirley Richards. In the article, Richards voiced her concern that religious freedom was under threat by the homosexual and pro-abortion lobbyists. Richards provided anecdotal evidence to support her claim that religious freedoms were under threat and praised the efforts of both local political parties saying that they “have accepted the inclusion in the proposed Charter of Rights of robust religious freedom clauses... [and] have also accepted the submission to preserve existing laws relating to sexual offenses, obscene publications and the life of the unborn.

However, what Richards had postulated within the article is antithetical to the protection of “rights” that she is seemingly arguing for – albeit those are religious rights. Such reactionary position takes for granted the rights of other human beings. Certainly, if a person is religious, s/he must be allowed to practice his/her religion without fear of disapproval (legal or otherwise). Conversely, if a person is not religious, s/he must not be forced to live by the religious (Christian) beliefs of those who are. It would therefore seem as though the argument is more about establishing a Christian hegemony. Certainly, the religious freedom for which she is advocating says nothing about the religious freedom the Rastafarian who uses the “herb” in rituals and is criminalised for doing so.

Furthermore, the assumption that religious freedom is threatened by the two groups she chose to focus on stems from a level of paranoia that society necessarily needs to rid itself of. In this discussion we need to move away from the distinctions we seek to create by each group asking for special rights. The homosexual movement of which she spoke for example is not calling for religious freedoms to become obsolete nor is it asking for “gay rights”. On the contrary, the community believes that there is no such thing as "Gay Rights". They are commonly referred to as such because the GLBT population does not receive the same rights other sections of the population take for granted. These are the rights – the same basic rights that are afforded others, including Christians – that the homosexual community are denied.

The assumption that the existence of particular groups who hold opinions that are different from the fundamentalist Christian is a threat to religious freedom is both misguiding and irresponsible as it creates a form of misanthropy that our society can very well do without. The example of the puritans to which Richards alluded in her article should suffice. Religion flourished in that context because of power exerted by the dominant religious group, denying the right to life of others who were deemed deviant. It is quite ironic that today religion is repudiating others for denying the right to life and for being a threat to their freedom.

At one time, Americans used the Bible to denounce women. The Bible, they claimed “said” women were to be servants of men. Christians said if women were given the right to vote, it would be an abomination in the eyes of God and destroy the nation. The same was said about equality for people of colour and interracial marriages. If we allow this Hegemony that is being argued for to take root in our society, I am afraid that the freedoms of all people will be greatly compromised. We do not need any special privileges for any singular group, what we need is the maintenance of the rights that are afforded every human being regardless of sexual orientation, cultural practices or religious beliefs. The paranoia must stop!


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