Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Vatican on Religious Freedom

The Vatican’s observer to the UN addressed the General Assembly yesterday on the subject of religious freedom and made quite a mess of it. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. There was plenty of hypocritical double talk. Like this:

Every individual and group must be free from coercion and no one should be forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her beliefs, whether in private or public, whether alone or in association with others. It is important here to pay particular attention to the needs of the weakest groups, including women, children, refugees, religious minorities and persons deprived of their liberty.


Sounds good, but they don’t mean it. They certainly don’t mean it when a woman wants access to contraception, which the Church has actively sought to block all over the world. The Vatican spokesman waxed eloquent about the need to protect “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, but they obviously do not mean it. Just look at their response to the Danish cartoon controversy:

The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers. This principle applies obviously for any religion.

This is quite absurd. Of course the right to freedom of thought and expression not only implies but demands the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers. Just because you label your views religious does not make them immune to criticism or ridicule. And if you’re going to take the position that anything that “offends” your “sentiments” is grounds for punishment, you really need to shut the hell up about freedom of thought; you clearly don’t believe in any such thing.

Comments

  1. #1 bob koepp
    November 1, 2006

    Ed – On your first point, you’ve failed to distinguish between negative and positive freedoms, which is crucial to understanding the notions of coercion and being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs. Of course, that doesn’t let the church off the hook, since it has supported coercive bans on practices it doesn’t like. On your second point, you are entirely correct, since freedom of expression is incompatible with privileging any set of beliefs and/or sentiments.

  2. #2 Ginger Yellow
    November 1, 2006

    Of course people can and should be “forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her beliefs”, in certain circumstances. What about the person who believes he has a right not to pay taxes? Or the person who believes God told him to kill his/her children?

  3. #3 GH
    November 1, 2006

    What I always find humurous about the RCC is that for all the blather about freedom of thought in the end their belief system is so that if you believe something different you will be punished for it.

    I don’t know if that makes them hypocrites or just imbeciles.

  4. #4 Brian X
    November 1, 2006

    GH:

    As a general rule, when conservative religious organizations talk about freedom of religion, they’re talking about their rights to proselytize. You notice how the fundamentalists out there have been arguing for separation of church and state in Iraq, but insist that no such thing even exists in the US.

    Thing being, I’m sure a great number of them think they’re doing the right thing. But then again, so did Hitler, so you can’t give too much credit to people having the courage of their convictions.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    November 1, 2006

    Bob Koepp wrote:

    On your first point, you’ve failed to distinguish between negative and positive freedoms, which is crucial to understanding the notions of coercion and being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs. Of course, that doesn’t let the church off the hook, since it has supported coercive bans on practices it doesn’t like.

    You’ve lost me completely. What did I say that suggests I don’t understand coerction and being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs?

  6. #6 The Ridger
    November 1, 2006

    And that’s why you get this: Muazzez İlmiye Çığ is a 92-year-old academic who is recognized internationally as Turkey’s most prominent Sumerologist. She’s been charged with violating Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code, which covers offences committed by “insulting values that are regarded as sacred by an individual’s religion”, and Article 216, which governs the offence of “incitement to hatred and enmity as well as denigration” – 216 is the catch-all for prosecuting intellectuals and writers.

    She and her publisher face up to three years in jail.

    Her offense? Pointing out in ancient Sumeria, temple prostitutes wore headscarves like the ‘turban’ or ‘hijab’.

    This is “incitement to hatred and enmity”?

  7. #7 bob koepp
    November 1, 2006

    Ed –
    Almost as soon as I posted my comment I regretted having stated the point in terms of your having “failed” to make the distinction between positive and negative freedoms. I should have said you “neglected” the distinction. Sorry about that.

    The reason I think the distinction is _so_ important is because _so_ many people seem to think that conscientious objections to providing assistance (i.e., enabling another’s freedom of action) constitutes a violation of the assistance seeker’s freedom. And usually that’s because they don’t appreciate the distinction in question.

    Again, my apologies for being hasty in pressing the “post” button.

  8. #9 The Ridger
    November 1, 2006

    She did – but it’s ridiculous that she was tried – even that she was charged. Unless you think the laws serve some purpose than stifling free speech, that is.

  9. #10 AndyS
    November 1, 2006

    Sorry, I still don’t see how Roman Catholics tolerate the male-only priesthood. Given that, any sort of silliness follows.

  10. #11 Ry
    November 3, 2006

    Amen to that.

  11. #12 Nebogipfel
    November 3, 2006

    The Vatican spokesman waxed eloquent about the need to protect “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”

    In this case, freedom of religion means I am free to worship in my own way, and you are also free to worship in my own way. The concept of being free to follow other religions is a contradiction. In the same way that, to my three-year-old son, the concept of a gift-wrapped present being for someone else makes no sense.

  12. #13 Nebogipfel
    November 3, 2006

    Her offense? Pointing out in ancient Sumeria, temple prostitutes wore headscarves like the ‘turban’ or ‘hijab’.
    This is “incitement to hatred and enmity”?

    Well, it certainly incited some hatred and enmity towards her!

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