Religion is a particular state of mind. It covers beliefs (faith), convictions and even concepts or principles that humans find note-worthy, worship-worthy or love-worthy. I attempted to demonstrate that different people define ‘religion’ very differently from each other (and from my above definition), providing example of a school librarian who only considered several sects of Christianity as ‘religion’ (not even covering all of Christianity) and classifying all else as ‘mythology’. As there is no provision in our society for ‘protection from discrimination on the grounds of mythology’, should everyone define the term as narrowly (or according to their own particular liking), this would effectively place many ‘religions’ outside of legal protection….
C.G. Jung’s definition of ‘religion’ (which I happen to like because it is clear, concise and can be workable in both a personal and a legal context – as well as being a definition I think most people could accept), is as follow:
Religion appears to me to be a peculiar attitude of the mind which could be formulated in accordance with the original use of the word religio, which means a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors that are conceived as “powers”: spirits, demons, gods, laws, ideas, ideals, or whatever name man has given to such factors in his world as he has found powerful, dangerous, or helpful enough to be taken into careful consideration, or grand, beautiful, and meaningful enough to be devoutly worshiped and loved.
This definition would effectively eliminate the problem which I cited in the ‘librarian’ example – and more.
This definition of religion limits it to a peculiar attitude of the mind: not the practices or ritualswhich accompany it.
As such, whereever freedom of religion was guaranteed, a person could believe, admit and openly discuss all aspects of their religion freely, without regard to how ‘offensive’ this may be to other religions or to some members of the society. However, since religion is limited (by definition) to a state of mind – not actions – one could not claim protection under ‘freedom of religion’ laws for taking action which would contravene the laws of the land that person would happen to be living in. In my never-humble-opinion, drawing a very firm line between ‘beliefs/thoughts/ideas’ and expressing them freely (protected) and actions (not protected) is very, very important.
All actions which contravene the laws of the land – no matter how much rooted in or motivated by ‘religion’ – ought not enjoy any protection under ‘freedom of religion’.
Human sacrifice is an integral part of many bona fide religions. From ancient Egypt and other parts of Africa, to China and Japan, to Europe, and the Americas – human sacrifice was an integral part of many religious rituals. If actions based on religious belief were to be protected under ‘freedom of religion’, any person claiming to subscribe to any one of these religions could commit ritual murder without fear of prosecution or any kind of legal action. The murderer would be protected under ‘freedom of religion’.
I particularly selected human sacrifice for my example because it is so extreme. Yet, it is a well documented part of many religious rituals! If there is a blanket protection for actions based on religious belief, even such extreme acts as ritualized murder would be protected.
In no way am I proposing that this ought to be so. To the contrary. I am demonstrating in as strong terms as I can think of that ‘freedom of religion’ must not be allowed to excuse acts which are in breech of secular laws. OK, so the ‘religious practice’in question need not be as drastic as human sacrifice: it could be polygamy, ritual rape, paedophilia (child-brides), ritual cannibalism, genital mutilation (male and female) – the list could go on for pages…
The particulars of the practice are really not important. The key is that freedom of religion ought to protect one from discrimination based on thoughts, belief, ideas – but must not in any way protect behaviour which contravenes the secular laws of the land.
We must protect everyone’s right to believe and hold ideas freely and openly. At the same time, we must not allow cries of ‘this is part of my religion’ to protect illegal behaviour: this would only lead to the hijacking of religions by criminal minded people or those who wish to oppress -or worse.
It would be wrong of us to allow religions to be abused in this manner.