Why freedom of religion matters – even if you’re not religious

Mark Milke
April 26, 2011
China just cracked down on religion. But they’re not alone: see Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea……

Why freedom of religion matters – even if you’re not religious

Mark Milke
April 26, 2011
China just cracked down on religion. But they’re not alone: see Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea……
Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter

In Beijing this past week, Chinese rulers cracked down on the possibility that someone, somewhere might have an allegiance to something other than China’s current regime. Thus, 100 members of the 1,000-member strong Shouwang Church were detained during Christianity’s holiest week; their “offense” was to hold public prayer services to protest restrictions on property they purchased in 2009.

The background is that the Shouwang Church tried to legally register itself but independent of the government-controlled Protestant organization in China. That’s a no-no in China, where Beijing has long sought to control religious expression.


Westerners, especially where state and religion are practically separate (in Canada and Europe) or constitutionally separate (the United States), often forget that freedom of conscience and expression is not the norm around the world.


Such repression matters regardless of whether one practices a faith or is an outspoken atheist. Ultimately, religion is a reflection of one’s own person. Moreover, as an individual, one will at some point differ from the 6,913,464,704 other people on the planet, something difficult if one’s view on the cosmos is repressed.


Room must be made for diverse views because unless one thinks we’ve all arrived at nirvana-like perfection, freedom of conscience and expression are critical for improvements. That requires criticism. Religious priorities are one possible avenue of opposition to societal or the state’s status quo and can result in positive reforms; anti-slavery abolitionists in the 19th century and anti-human trafficking advocates now are examples.


A state’s desire for severe control over religion represents a threat to all because it reveals a desire for extreme uniformity, often in the name of social cohesion.


To be sure, social cohesion matters and some shared values are integral to a well-functioning country. Without the underlying and often unspoken agreement that individuals matter, that elections and peaceful transfers of power are critical, that courts should be independent and that Canada should be governed by the rule of law, normal day-to-day rights and freedoms we take for granted would be in peril.


That caveat is why even religious freedom has limits if, as part of someone’s agenda, there’s an attempt to hedge others in. (Religion has been used both to restrict and expand freedoms.) It’s why radical Islamists who try and undercut the core liberal values of the West cannot co-exist with our society; we’re at odds with them and vice-versa. They have a need for extreme uniformity and we don’t.


The harshest example of such enforced uniformity is Saudi Arabia. Those not of majority faith (Islam) and majority sect (Wahhabism) are not only second-class citizens but in danger of death if they “blaspheme” Islam.


In his 2008 book, Religious Freedom in the World, which analyzed degrees of religious freedom in 101 countries and territories, including the ability to be free from religion itself, Paul Marshall noted how “Muslim majority” countries have the worst record on such freedoms. “Of the 41 countries surveyed that can be rated as religiously ‘free’, 35 are traditionally Christian,” writes Marshall. The others include three mainly Buddhist countries (Japan, Thailand and Mongolia) and Israel.


In contrast, only two mainly Muslim countries are ranked as free (Mali and Senegal). But most Muslim-majority nations have various restrictions. They range from the penalties already noted in Saudi Arabia to, for example, bans on Baha’i institutions and activities in Egypt. Or consider Iran where death sentences and assassinations have been the cost of converting from Islam to other faiths.


The restrictions on religion in Muslim-dominated countries are hardly surprising. In faiths that had historic influence in the West, Judaism had the example of Job who argued with God; in Christianity, Christ asserted men owed allegiance to both God and Caesar. Both traditions thus had seeds that allowed, eventually, for the flowering of open diversity. The West also experienced the Reformation, Renaissance and the Enlightenment which all helped to propel freedom forward.


Thus, until Muslim-majority countries can conceive of a state-religion split as anything other than apostasy, such countries will not be the most amenable to minority faiths, agnosticism and atheism.


Proponents of utter uniformity cannot stand that people even think differently than the status quo. In extreme forms, an attachment to excessive unity over diversity has led to bloodbaths under Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, and the severe repression that yet emanates from rulers in Riyadh, Tehran and Pyongyang.


Such a mindset was perhaps best illustrated by George Orwell in 1984. “We are not content with negative obedience,” said the torturer O’Brien to Orwell’s main character, Winston. “We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us than an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world.”

Love C2C Journal? Here's how you can help us grow.

More for you

Pictured is Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians. Illustrating the plight of civil servants under increasing regulation.

Slow Death by Regulation, the Great Public-Sector Disease

When do the words “transparency” and “accountability” mean the opposite of what an untutored citizen might think? Why, when they’re passing the lips of a Canadian civil servant. The federal bureaucracy also seems the one place where the digital revolution made everyone less productive. And while this sounds amusing (if pathetic), the federal bureaucracy’s power and intrusiveness just grow and grow while the freedoms of individuals and voluntary associations shrink and shrink. Former citizenship judge Joe Woodard takes a wry look at these trends and with good humour tracks the deadly serious slide of Canada from a free society in which everything that isn’t specifically forbidden is allowed, into something sadder, darker and more constrained.

Do journalism subsidies work when it comes to maintaining the quality of the industry?

Journalism Subsidies: A Case Study in Government Failure

Judging by the sheer volume of information coming our way, the Canadian news media are the very picture of health. But quantity isn’t indicative of quality, and the age of clickbait could put the final nail in the coffin of the nation’s legacy media. So who cares? Well, as online upstarts fill only a tiny proportion of the resulting void, the size, influence and market share of the taxpayer-subsidized CBC continue to grow – and some want it to grow further still. Could that possibly be good for diversity of news and views? Lydia Miljan lays out what ails the Canadian media business model, charts the deterioration of journalistic quality, points to the bright spots and makes the case for two practical and achievable federal policies that could allow our media sector to save itself.

Even before the collapse in air travel as a result of the lockdown, airport bankruptcy was a real possibility. Now with the collapse of the industry...

Could Canada’s Airports Go Bankrupt? (And Could That Be the Best Thing for Them?)

The debt-fuelled buildout of Canada’s airports, predicated on the dubious though common premise of unending growth in air travel, has stalled badly. While there’s been virtually zero news media attention, it seems the entire Canadian airport operating model could be about to crash and burn – at a time when governments are themselves wildly over-committed through their own borrowing binges. In this thoroughly reported original, Peter Shawn Taylor dissects Canada’s uniquely strange and problematic approach to owning and running airports, explains how we got into this mess and, looking to Europe and Australia for guidance, charts a way back out.

More from this author

Picture of Thomas Hobbes frontispiece of Leviathan. A renowned pieceof political work on liberty

Future of Conservatism Series, Part VII: Memo to Politicians: We’re Not Your Pet Projects

Canadian conservatives have most of the summer to ruminate on what they want their federal party to become – as embodied by their soon-to-be elected leader, anyway. Acceptability, likability and winnability will be key criteria. Above all, however, should be crafting and advancing a compelling policy alternative to today’s managerial liberalism, which has been inflated by the pandemic almost beyond recognition. Mark Milke offers a forceful rebuttal against the Conservative “alternative” comprising little more than a massaged form of top-down management.


So Much for Diversity: The Monochromatic Moderators of Monday’s Debate

Canada is a big, diverse country by virtually any measure, from our no-longer-so-sparse population to our epic geography to the ethnic makeup of our people. Diverse in every way, it seems, except in our elites’ aggressively progressive official-think. Consistent with this is the otherwise bizarre decision to have Monday’s federal leaders’ debate hosted by five decidedly similar female journalists. Mark Milke briefly profiles the five and, more important, advances a positive alternative: five distinguished women diverse in background, hometown and, above all, thought.

Calumny and Courage in the Energy War

No sooner had Alberta announced its “fight back” strategy to counter misinformation aimed at the province’s key industry – including a public inquiry into foreign funding of anti-energy groups – than the left counterattacked. Instead of mounting facts and evidence of its own, they accused Alberta’s UCP government of violating the human rights of the progressives’ pantheon of designated victims. These shout-down-discredit-and-destroy tactics are ubiquitous tools of leftists nowadays, but in this instance the target may be tougher than expected. Mark Milke explores the energy war’s competing campaigns for the hearts and souls as much as the minds of Canadians.

Share This Story

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on print


Subscribe to the C2C Weekly
It's Free!

* indicates required
By providing your email you consent to receive news and updates from C2C Journal. You may unsubscribe at any time.