Freedom of Religion versus Freedom of Women

I want to be totally upfront and declare that I absolutely support the American ideal of freedom of religion.  I agree that mosques should be built wherever they want.  On the other hand, I wonder why I’m in the minority on this issue when so much of the country is consesvative and should be supporting this American ideal too.  Why aren’t they? 

In New York City people are fighting over building a mosque.  In Afghanistan Islamic people are stoning young people for being in love.  Is there a connection?  By the ideals of America,  citizens of the U.S. are free to pursue whatever religion they desire, so why not let mosques be built anywhere?  Or are the majority of Americans who are against mosque building really just anti-Islamic?  Who really wants to support a religion that treats its people as barbaric as the Taliban?  The Taliban is Old Testament thinking, and that’s troublesome at so many levels.

On the other hand, we’re trying to liberate Afghanistan from Taliban rule.  Now if we lived in the Star Trek universe, and Afghanistan was another planet, we’d be forbidden by Federation laws of interfering with a primitive society.  Is it even possible to modernize an Old Testament society like Afghanistan?  And if anyone wonders what Biblical times were like they only need to watch news reports about life under the Taliban.  We have had pretty good success in Iraq, but that society had already been modernized to a great degree.  Is it even possible to bring 7th century Afghanistan into the 21st century?

The Taliban recently killed humanitarian aid workers with the claim they were spreading Christianity.  We of course said, no, no, no, they were just giving medical treatment to the people.  But I don’t think Americans understand, our modern laws and government are shaped by two thousands years of Christianity, so just liberating Afghans politically is Christianizing them.  Now I know Christians will hate this, but to the Old Testament mind of the primitive culture of the Taliban, liberal philosophy and Christianity are one and the same.

I’m an atheist, so I don’t have a dog in this religious fight.  However, I’m a strong believer in American ideals, so I completely support freedom of religion.  I believe freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.  The ethical question here is:  Do we Americans have the right to force our freedoms on Afghanistan?  That’s too complicated an ethical question for me to grasp.

The Taliban is one aspect of the Islamic world, although it’s larger than it appears to be.  The leaders of Iran, and many other Muslim countries have the same mindset.  From my perspective, radical Islamic terrorists should be policed by Muslims who claim to know the true meaning of Islam, but that’s not happening at all.   The trouble is the Islamic world is openly or secretly supporting the radical Muslims.  Thus, I must assume the anti-mosque people of America are really responding to this kind of thinking and not necessarily a religion.  We don’t like Taliban Islam because it’s also an oppressive political system, and the Islamic people of the world has done a terrible job of selling the virtues of true Islam.

By the ideals of the American way of life, President Obama is right, any religion should be able to build houses of worship essentially anywhere.  We shouldn’t paint all Islamic people by comparing them to the Taliban.  What’s ironic is atheists and liberals are defending the rights of Islamic people in America, and it certainly would help mainstream Americans to be more liberal and American idealistic if mainstream Muslims were aggressively weeding our their radical elements.

The Islamic world needs to convince us the Taliban doesn’t equal Islam.  They need to do it damn fast.  And they need to prune their radicals, otherwise we will always think Taliban equals Islam, because that’s all we see of Islam.  And if the Taliban really equals Islam, even liberals like me will want to put a dog into the fight because they are making us choose between freedom of religion over freedom of individuals, especially women, and I’ll always choose freedom of individuals first.

What do we do?  What are the options?

  • Continue on the current path and hope to bring a western style government to Afghanistan
  • Leave Afghanistan and let the Muslim world do as it wants as long as it doesn’t attack the western world.  (Divided but equal cultures.)
  • Declare a modern crusade of liberalism and convince Muslims to modernize their religion

I was thinking we could succeed in Afghanistan like we did in Iraq.  Set up a police force and army – get a semblance of stability going and then leave.  But after reading “In Bold Display, Taliban Order Stoning Deaths” in the New York Times this morning, I’m changing my mind.  It’s either pull out and let those people alone, or declare a new crusade.  This is a hard issue to deal with, just read “Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban” in Time.  Do we keep fighting to liberate the women?  Its freedom of religion versus freedom of individuals.

We are horrified by the primitive justice of the Taliban, even though they live exactly like people lived in the Old Testament, which is deemed holy by most Christians.  But remember Jesus and how he stopped the stoning of the woman?  We can’t ask the Taliban which of them is without sin.  That’s a pivotal moment in the origins of liberal thinking.  Conservatives might hate liberals, but we’re all flaming liberals compared to the Taliban.

Which is more important, personal freedom, or freedom of religion?  What would this woman say?


If we could poll all the women in Afghanistan and ask them if we should crush out the Taliban how would they vote?  And are we ready to spend the money on such a war?  I tend to believe Americans don’t care enough to spend the money, and if there wasn’t a terrorism threat, they’d be happy to ignore the Muslim world.  If there was no terrorism threat, they’d probably wouldn’t care how many mosques were built in our country.  But as long as Islam the religion looks exactly like the Islam of terrorism most Americans won’t be mosque friendly, and may even be willing to spend their tax dollars on a long term war.

We’re in a vicious cycle right now.  For every terrorist we kill, and especially for every innocent bystanders we kill, terrorist armies grow.  The larger their armies grow, the more we fill the skies of the Islamic world with drones and cruise missiles.  One side needs to break the cycle.  If we call off our crusade, will they call of their jihad?  I don’t know.  I don’t think we can convince them to pull back, but I wonder if mainstream Islam can?  Maybe the people wanting to build the mosque in New York City should consider building mosques in Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, Yemen or Iran and preach a better Islam.  If we allowed a mosque in New York City, would they try?  Or should we hold up the lease until we see change in the Islamic world?

I understand why the majority of Americans don’t want the mosques in New York City and elsewhere, they equate Islam to our enemy, and the mainstream Islamic world has done nothing to disprove that.  Why?  And are the Muslims coming to the western world fleeing Islamic oppression, like the Puritans on the Mayflower, seeking a new way of life, or are they bringing Old Testament thinking to the New World?

Like I said, I’m an atheist and firmly believe in America’s ideal of freedom of religion.  In America anyone can believe what they want, and it’s unethical and un-American to attack that ideal.  Christian theocracy is evil, but so is Islamic theocracy.  Unfortunately, the Islamic world has no sense of freedom of religion, and theocracy seems to be the only politics Islamic people want.

Building mosques in America is a very complicated philosophical issue.  I see both sides of the issue, but I’m no longer sure which one I’m on.  Obama is right, but I sympathize with the people who protest against him.  I think the liberals of all religions need to weed out their intolerant and xenophobic beliefs.    

JWH 8/17/10

8 thoughts on “Freedom of Religion versus Freedom of Women”

  1. this is sick. i’m tired of hearing bullshit arguments, all it comes down to is people being islamophobic and that’s all….who’s rallying to stop mormon centers from electrifying people into heterosexual submission in temples found all over the country, or fundementalist christians from spewing violent, anti-woman, anti-choice rhetoric in churches all over the country… i happen to be reminded of many a violent crusade and bombing by the religious right…funny how their mistakes disappear when the media has a field day with anti-islam stories such as this.

    1. I agree, I think it essentially boils down to anti-Islamic emotions, but it’s more complicated than that. Religion is filled full of horrors and hatreds. See the documentary and book Constantine’s Sword – – for a history of the evils of religious intollerence. From your web site you obviously want to find the good in religion and I wished all religious people pursued that goal. But one of the great statements Constantine’s Sword makes is to say that religion needs to own up to its sins.

      I also agree the media can find plenty of anti-women sentiments among Christians. There are many reasons why I am an atheist and some of them aren’t related to metaphysical ideas. I’m trying to stay outside of those issues. I want absolute freedom of religion. It doesn’t bother me in the least where mosques are built, or churches, but this mosque issue is being made into a political issue that might decide whether Rebulicans or Democrats run the Congress this fall, and people like us have to deal with the fact that a majority of Americans are anti-Islamic.

    2. Such a racist and myopic view point, you also seem to be short of the facts but then again liberals are always short of facts. As I read your comment I began to realize the ignorance of the left to accept reality. Most do not hate Islam, we are fed up with those calling themselves “moderate” who refuse to condemn such atrocities, though your comment also proves a point to which the left is completely hypocritical and inept. The liberal model to governance has failed and will always be unsustainable in any form one can create. So please subject your liberal tendicies to low and research factual information and not the liberal book of ficticious endeavors.

  2. Jim, freedom of religion IS freedom of individuals. That’s why freedom of religion doesn’t allow you to burn witches alive, no matter how clearly your god commands it. There is no conflict between freedom of religion and personal freedom, because all rights are individual rights.

    What moderate Muslims must understand – and have the courage to stand up and say – is that complete freedom of religion is not a threat to Islam. Most Muslim women would almost certainly choose their religion, if they had a choice. Look at Christianity in America. Complete freedom of religion has been better for Christianity than state-sponsored religion anywhere in the world.

    And what non-Muslim Americans must understand is that demonstrating our freedoms, treating Muslims just like any other religious group, free to peacefully worship as they wish, is the best way to show Islam that it can succeed without force.

    But note that it’s NOT a group right. Freedom of religion is the freedom of individuals, all individuals, not of any particular group. Religions have no rights, none whatsoever. All rights are individual rights.

    The right-wing claims that America’s freedoms make us “weak.” I disagree. Our freedoms make us strong. We just need the courage and the common sense to believe in them ourselves.

    1. I see it slightly different Bill. There’s always been a conflict between protecting the whole population and protecting the individual. Communists were all about protecting the whole over the individual, whereas we value the individual more than the whole. I believe the Constitution and Bill of Rights give individuals a series of freedoms, or rights, that should be protected, and freedom of religion is one of them.

      For example people should have the right to marry that is separate from religious rules of marriage. Or pursue jobs regardless of creed, color, gender or sexual orientation. A person might choose a religion that conflicts with these rights, so that’s why I see religion as a separate freedom. A religion can say women can’t be priests or gays can’t marry, but the law shouldn’t say that.

      I believe people have the freedom to pick a religion that is more restrictive of their rights than their legal rights. Sometimes people pick religions that have more freedoms than the law, like Muslims are allowed to have four wives. Which makes me wonder if monogomy is a violation of church and state.

      1. Yes, you can voluntarily pick a religion that’s more restrictive of your rights, Jim, but the individual still has the right to change their mind. You can’t sign away your rights permanently.

        Religions have to be voluntary at ALL times. That’s why a religion has no rights itself. Only the individuals that belong to it have rights.

        If a woman’s religion tells her that she must obey her husband in all things, she has the right to agree to that. But under freedom of religion, there is never a point at which she can’t disobey. Freedom of religion is an individual right. If she wants to voluntarily obey her husband, that’s fine. But it’s ALWAYS her choice.

        If you disagree, can you think of a right that a religion has or should have that’s not an individual right of its members? Yeah, they don’t pay taxes, assuming they follow the rules, but that’s hardly a “right.” It’s just a law that can be changed at any time.

  3. Now that’s a very interesting question Bill, whether not religions have rights under the law. I mean, they aren’t regulated like corporations, and for the most part they are all treated equally, although there is a prejudice for Christianity no matter how hard the government tries not to. No, I wouldn’t say religions have any rights at all, not like individuals do.

    To me a more interesting question would be: Must religions stand up to the moral standards of a country? When a religion tells its members not to take their children to the hospital is that immoral? Is it immoral to stone people if you think God wants people stoned.

    I would say religions have no rights, and they are subject to the laws and the moral consensus of the people.

    What we’re really saying by freedom of religion is people have a right to believe whatever metaphysical philosophy they want, but they need to follow the laws of the land.

    That’s why marriage as a legal institution is different from marriage as part of a religious tradition.

  4. Jim, my question was not so much about the rights of religions under the law, but whether they should have rights. Of course, they should be treated equally – and equally with other non-profit organizations – but even then, that’s more because of the rights of their members. Fundamentally, civil rights are a matter for individuals, not groups.

    And even if an individual chooses a particular religion, it must always remain voluntary. No matter what, he doesn’t give up his rights. Even if you freely choose a religion that doesn’t let you leave, you still have the right to leave. Freedom of religion doesn’t let a religion do anything it wants. It just ensures the religious freedom of each individual.

    Re. morality, “when a religion tells its members not to take their children to the hospital is that immoral?” Yes, if we’re talking about a hospital up to modern standards. (In centuries past, a hospital was probably the worst place you could end up.)

    “Is it immoral to stone people if you think God wants people stoned?” Yes, in most cases. (I can almost always think of exceptions to everything.)

    However, I don’t think it depends on the moral consensus of the community. If something is wrong, it’s wrong, no matter what the majority says. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t obey the laws,… although, again, there are always exceptions.

    Heh, heh. When it comes to moral issues, I’m uncomfortable speaking in generalities. I can do it, but not without plenty of qualifications.

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