As per the last couple weeks, I will only have one post this week. Along with grad school actually making me do productive things with my life, I have a few other very important responsibilities. These include band practice, a Tool concert tonight, and getting my Zombie Phyllis Schlafly Halloween costume together. Responsibilities, you know? But as a result of these responsibilities, this week’s post will be pretty short, and treading some usual ground, but I want to emphasize a particular point.
American Secularists are well aware of the Religious Right’s tenuous grasp of what religious freedom actually is. Sure, they’ll say that they champion religious freedom all day, but the politicians use it as a dogwhistle phrase to signal that they will continue to reinforce Christian hegemony over the rest of the country. When former Texas Governor Rick Perry signed Texas HB 308, he made sure to also state, “Freedom of Religion doesn’t mean Freedom from Religion.” I’m not sure what’s more embarrassing: that he was the first of the 2016 GOP candidates to suspend his campaign, or that his words at the signing of the bill are echoed on this website which looks like a high school Web Design Project from 2002.
However, we as secularists need to point out that this is a false dichotomy. In fact, not only are both freedom of and from religion compatible, but you simply cannot have freedom of religion without freedom from religion. Every time you decide to worship in the manner you choose, you are able to do so without state coercion forcing you to worship in a manner contrary to your beliefs. If you are a Christian in America and you go to church regularly, then you have the freedom from every religion that you do not participate in. Likewise, if you are a Muslim and you go to Mosque, you have freedom from every religion that is not Islam. And for each of these examples, you have freedom from all sects and denominations within that religion. Baptists have freedom from being forced to recognize transubstantiation as the Catholics do, and Shia Muslims are free from the Sunni doctrine that Abu Bakr was the rightful successor to Muhummad.In western cultures with religious freedom, we have the express freedom to choose a religion, and therefore are not forced into a specific belief system. That is unarguably freedom from any religion that we don’t choose. This also applies to any of the “nones”, who claim no religion. We are given the freedom of any religion, even if it’s no religion at all. The government could, in principle, force us to practice a particular religion, but that would be a violation of both freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. There is simply no way to divorce freedom of religion from its opposite.
To be thorough, you could have freedom from religion without its opposite. If the government were to force us from practicing any religion at all, then it would violate freedom of religion. Keeping this in mind, it would violate just as much freedom for the government to coerce its citizens into a particular religion while disallowing any other form of religious expression. Even if the government enforced a religion that I hypothetically practiced, I still wouldn’t have religious freedom since I would never be allowed to change my mind. None of these situations are secularism, including a ban on religion altogether. Fortunately, as secularists, we must fight against all of these forms of oppression. We champion freedom of thought, even the freedom for thoughts that are hateful, misinformed, or complete bullshit.
We often aren’t granted the same courtesy. Anyone who isn’t Christian in America is subjected to government coercion of belief systems we don’t hold. This is often in the form of government-led prayer, religious symbols on public ground, and Christian indoctrination in public schools, among other things. The aforementioned house bill that Rick Perry signed was specifically signed so that students could say religious-tinged language like “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hannukah” without repercussion, as if there was some threat to the students being allowed to say that. However, when even the basic facts of Islam are taught such as the pillars of Islam or what god Muslims worship, Christians get up in arms. Perhaps this is the best point to point it out to them that freedom of religion works in their favor, and it protects children from being indoctrinated, which is something we should all value.
Therefore, the next time a Christian complains about the Freedom From Religion Foundation, maybe it would be best to point out that they freedom from religion works in their favor as well.