It appears that once again the rule of law seems to cower before the bugbear that is religion. A recent court ruling saw a woman being ruled in her favour so she could wear her cross to work. Two things arose in my mind after this ruling – firstly, surely the European Court of Human Rights has better things to do, claiming human rights abuse because you can’t wear what is effectively a miniaturised torture device round your neck seems absurd to me. Secondly, religious privilege seems to be taking priority once again – “I believe in this, thus you must be forced to tolerate my beliefs” are the usual tired arguments rolled out to defend it.
Why is this the case? Certainly, one of the ideals we must cherish onto the most is freedom of speech, and this includes freedom to question – and if anything needs questioning its religion (I’ll try and hold myself back from ranting about why) yet religion seems to have a shield. Christopher Hitchens quipped that being a man of faith is treated by society as something to be respected. I really must question why? If anything, it merely states one is prone to indoctrination but nonetheless, it also seems to be a way to woo courts.
One thing that has to be accepted is that we are living in an increasingly globalised and secular world – and religion needs to catch up to this. Religion cannot become something to be revered, respected and certainly not a tool to yell “my human rights are being violated!” when one questions your distasteful jewellery. Religion should be treated as equal to the law, not above it, as it has been used numerous times when one wishes to defend themselves – this is tiring, insulting and archaic. Religion no longer holds the place in society it once held where the judiciary was a mere puppet to its whims – thankfully religion is significantly less powerful than it once was, and is getting less powerful by the year.
But whilst I am discussing this, the majority of cases presented to the ECHR are from Christians, but Christianity is not the only religion that should be questioned – a second is Judaism. A Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament was recently ‘censored’ due to making an anti-Israel argument on Holocaust Memorial Day. Admittedly, the timing was objectionable but censoring him seems a rather Orwellian action and he should have been free to make his comments. Certainly the Liberal Democrat made a valid point about Israel’s genocidal actions towards Palestine being tragically ironic due to the revolting, unethical actions the Nazis inflicted upon Jewish members of society. But the Lib Dem MP wasn’t being anti-Semitic, he was merely making a point that was being critical of religion but was hastily ‘censored’ – what happened to freedom of speech? No matter how distasteful, we can’t ‘censor’ or suppress arguments we don’t like, otherwise it is hard to wave the banner of freedom to say what one likes, and something we as Westerners claim to hold dear.
It must ultimately be questioned why religion is a weapon that renders one immune to justice. “Well my beliefs influence me..” “My religion necklace being removed is clearly violating the U.N declaration of human rights” “As a person of faith..” Sound familiar? It’s disgraceful that we hold religious privilege as something to be revered, it should be removed from its pedestal and not be used as a way to woo courts and pervert justice, it should have no impact upon a judicial process – otherwise we’ll have to take a cold, long look in a mirror when we claim to be a free, open and most importantly questioning society.
By Rory Claydon