Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Freedom of Religion versus Freedom from religion

TODAY reports that Malaysia Airlines had sneakily stopped serving alcoholic beverages to all customers for short haul flights since 1 Jan 2016, a move that was apparently not widely publicized, much to the surprise (and chagrin) of unsuspecting passengers. 

When discussing the utility of religion, it is not uncommon for religious people to argue that their practice of religion is deeply personal from which they derive solace, comfort and, believe it or not, moral guidance. And that it should not offend secularists like myself that there are people who would like to have the freedom of religion. 

Certainly, I am completely for freedom of religion. However, one must understand that there is a competing and equally valid right, that is, the right to have freedom from religion. If my posts have shown you anything, it is that, unlike secularists, religious people are often not quite content with the freedom to privately practice their religion. 

In the case of Malaysia Airlines, the reason given is that muslims cannot imbibe alcohol. At first glance, this reason appears absurd since Malaysia Airlines is not a muslim-only carrier. The corollary immediately becomes apparent: Muslims are not going to be satisfied with just private abstention. No, no, uh huh, the entire plane is not to have alcohol lest their rights to practice their religion be grievously infringed. 

Closer to home in Singapore, at least one muslim felt deeply aggrieved by a public mainstream newspaper which ran an article on (gasp!) ham on a day of contrived religious significance.

Likewise, a secular, private event (costume party featuring nuns with bad habits) had to be cancelled after the Catholic Church felt that it did not align with its values of shielding sex offenders.

Perhaps I am terribly mistaken but it does appear that religious people understand freedom of religion to actually mean: if I cannot do/eat/say something, I make sure everyone else suffers the same restrictions. 

If I cannot have abortions, I want laws that make it unavailable to everyone else. If I cannot draw my prophet, I want to make it illegal for everyone else to do so. If I do not approve of homosexuals, it should bloody well be criminal to be one

When organized religions lobby to deny rights to other people or society in general, it is not about defending their right to freedom of religion. That is a non-sequitur because they already have that. There are no secular groups picketing churches and mosques. There is no legislation criminalizing their more questionable practices. Quite to the contrary, society has bent over backwards to accommodate these practices in the name of freedom of religion (e.g., polygamy, genital mutilation of children, etc.)  

It is painfully obvious that "freedom of religion" is used as a misleading and ill-founded excuse for oppression. It is and has always been about negating and removing the right of other persons to have freedom from religion. 

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