In several cases recently here in Sweden, “freedom of religion” has been used as an argument for obtaining certain privileges. These are my current thoughts about this somewhat controversial topic:
If commercial or non-profit enterprises or voluntary groups provide services and goods such as halal or kosher food, exclusive time slots in privately operated swimming pools, financing for mosques or churches, hindu gyms or whatever, without tax subsidies, that’s fine with me. It’s business but it’s none of my business. I myself am happy to be able to buy ecological milk and fair trade coffee, and to be reasonably sure that the clothing I buy has not been sewn by child or slave labor. All this is according to my humanist belief system. I pay for these things. I do not expect tax money to pay for my choice of coffee or apparel.
Using religion as a rationale for spending public money or, worse, justifying exemptions from the law is objectionable of several reasons:
- It is not clear which religions that are eligible. How do we define “sincerely held beliefs” as they are called in the debate in the United States? Only “old” religions? Is Norse paganism eligible? It’s pretty old. If there is no rule about what “beliefs” and religions that deserve breaks, then I guess it would be ok for me to join the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and claim that my religion requires me always to have my own private lane in the swimming pool.
- If one religion requires special provision A and another the opposite of A (Ā), which one should win? There is no rational way to determine who’s right if there is one billion people believing A and one billion people believing the opposite. Both A and Ā can obviously not be true except in the minds of people gifted with doublethink. It would very likely boil down to a “my-god-is-greater-than-your-god” contest. That has been tried over and over again in Bagdad, Belfast, Breitenfeld,…
- Yielding to the religion argument is a slippery slope; what’s next? Exemptions from laws and regulations? Bans on “offensive” public radio and TV programming? Demand for public buses reserved for certain religious groups? Kids not getting the best possible opportunity to get a good education and a good job because of religious restrictions?
- Indeed the word “rationale” is hard to use at all together with the word “religion” exactly because of the arbitrariness of any argument based on religion.
Many books have been written about the powerful “religion meme”. I will not try to argue with the believers as there is no rational way to do that. To repeat, I do not care about which God people believe in, how they worship, what kind of food they eat and so on as long as I am not affected. I do not want to have my (tax) money being spent on anything motivated by religion, I do not want religion to play any part in public life, and I do not want to have the legal rights that my ancestors have fought for so hard restricted one millimeter based on the religion argument. That goes for any religion.