Where Do We Draw the Line on Religious Abuse?

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The recent push in Quebec to ban religious clothing and symbols such as the burka and niqab reignited the heated debate about the role of the state in preventing religious abuse of vulnerable people, mainly women and children. To some, this proposed ban is the result of the burka's association with anti-democratic ideology and misogynistic gender relations, while to others it is the result of xenophobia and a lack of religious tolerance. Either way, Quebec certainly isn't the first place to consider such a ban, as France currently has a lawon the books that bans burkas and punishes those who force others — again, typically women and children — to wear them.


While outright bans on religious apparel are a serious limit on free speech and expression, those who support and wear religious clothing must also respect the rights of others to dress and live as they please, and should not be permitted to force their ideology or customs on others, even if they are family members. The problem with respecting the rights of religious individuals to practice their faith as they see fit while defending the rights of others to live free from religious compulsion is that there is no definitive legal standard by which the state can become involved to stop religious abuse.

Take for instance the ability of religious parents to not vaccinate their kids as other parents are required to do. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, "all fifty states have legislation requiring specified vaccines for students… Almost all states, except Mississippi and West Virginia, grant religious exemptions for people who have religious beliefs against immunizations." Essentially, a religious parent can stop their child from receiving a necessary vaccination, thereby endangering their child's health, and that of fellow students. These exemptions create a special class of citizen that is exempt from laws based solely upon their religious belief.

Written By: Roy Speckhardt
continue to source article at huffingtonpost.com

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  1. I think that it ridiculous that parents can claim something like religious belief as a reason to not only endanger their lives but the lives of others. I am not religious and I am for religious freedom but in cases that are so clear cut (i.e. vaccinations) we give too much freedom. Your religious freedom should not endanger the life of someone else.

    • In reply to #1 by bjchiaro50:

      I think that it ridiculous that parents can claim something like religious belief

      A plausible reason is not permitted, e.g. we have a family history of allergy to this inoculation. Only a silly reason is considered valid.

      I wonder what would happen if someone founded a church for whom paying taxes was an abomination, or for whom shoplifting was a sacrament, or for whom rape of a child was part of the rite of passage. Religion is far too much of a sacred cow relative to other beliefs.

  2. This is an illustration of how important the exact wording of our fundamental laws is. Even though First Amendment fetishists won’t admit that its wording – making no express mention of the freedom FROM religion- is flawed, this puts the gods-free community at an extreme disadvantage. I assume this problem can be found in most if not all nation’s constitutions.

    • In reply to #2 by godsbuster:

      This is an illustration of how important the exact wording of our fundamental laws is…I assume this problem can be found in most if not all nation’s constitutions.

      Not quite. The British have never had a constitution anyway (at least not in the sense that the US does). It’s oddly like those rather successful experiments where communities have done away with road signs and found that people drive more carefully because they have to take more care.

      It does mean that it’s easier and quicker to amend laws. That has a downside, too, in that it’s sometimes more difficult to keep the government in line (although parliament is supposed to do that).

  3. Just to add to no. 3, the current UK law on this precise point is contained in The Equality Act 2010 which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. The Act defines ‘religion’ as “any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion”. ‘Belief’ means “any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief”.

    • In reply to #4 by Pabmusic:

      .I assume this problem can be found in most if not all nation’s constitutions.

      Not quite. The British have never had a constitution anyway Just to add to no. 3, the current UK law on this precise point is contained in The Equality Act 2010 which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. The Act defines ‘religion’ as “any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion”. ‘Belief’ mean…

      Of course by “constitution” I meant anything that has an equivalent function. As to The Equality Act 2010 note how recent it is. Moreover, the fact that section 10 that you refer to which mentions “lack of religion” appears to be “prospective” is telling and sadly leaves my point intact. Even if it were fully enacted it is still miserably wimpy: “a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion” sounds like it was written in consultation with the CoE. What we need is a fullthroated unequivocal clause that stipulates FREEDOM FROM RELIGION including the prohibition to impose it on your children.

      The European Convention on Human Rights fails entirely to mention non-belief let alone freedom from religion. The UN comes closer to getting it right but it took them until 1993 to have Article 18 protect “non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief.”

    • In reply to #4 by Pabmusic:

      Just to add to no. 3, the current UK law on this precise point is contained in The Equality Act 2010 which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.

      Unfortunately, and solely as a result of unelected bishops in our upper house, key sections of the government’s Bill were defeated, specifically the ones which would have prevented religions from having an opt-out.

      This means that a faith school, say, can refuse to hire a teacher on the grounds of belonging to the “wrong” faith (or none). Or indeed can fire without due cause a teacher who suddenly announces he has lost his faith. As a result there are a lot of people pretending to be religious who are not. (I have a very good friend teaching at a Catholic school).

      • In reply to #13 by Stevehill:

        In reply to #4 by Pabmusic:
        This means that a faith school, say, can refuse to hire a teacher on the grounds of belonging to the “wrong” faith (or none).

        Can you imagine a university firing people because they changed schools of philosophy, or because they changed their preferred representation of Quantum Mechanics? It just shows what the religious schools are teaching is bunk that has no objective truth. You need con men in on the game to keep a straight face.

  4. A vaccine protects not only that person, but indirectly everyone they come in contact with.

    I would say by the principles of John Stuart Mill, you can’t force someone to have an inoculation solely for his own good, but you can for the benefit of his neighbours.

    The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.
    ~ John Stuart Mill 1806-05-20 1873-05-08

  5. To answer the question in the title, Circumcision is probably the worst religious abuse, and I don’t know why more Atheists haven’t spoken out against it. I know what I would have chosen, but I wasn’t given that choice.

    • In reply to #6 by Michael Austin:

      To answer the question in the title, Circumcision is probably the worst religious abuse, and I don’t know why more Atheists haven’t spoken out against it. I know what I would have chosen, but I wasn’t given that choice.

      Agree entirely. Thankfully my parents, my Mother in particular, thought it would be mutilation, so left me whole!

  6. I think clothing restrictions should work like this:

    1. people should be allowed to wear whatever they want on the street, including nothing.
    2. an employer wants to present a certain image. He has the right to set up a corporate dress code or uniform. Puritanical Christians might say the Hooters “uniform” is offensive to them, and they want to work wearing a snood. I’d say, let them work elsewhere. This would also apply to people who believe based only on tradition that they must cover their heads, wear what amounts to a tailored carpet. This uniform would likely include a lack of political buttons or religious paraphernalia. The employer does not want to give the impression he is proselytising or imposing a corporate religion.
    • In reply to #7 by Roedy:

      I think clothing restrictions should work like this:

      people should be allowed to wear whatever they want on the street, including nothing.

      I believe than allowing burka’s or niquab’s in the public space should be illegal, not for religious reasons but for reasons of social order and public security. Any form of clothing that completely covers someone’s face and body precludes any chance of identification of the person wearing that garment. This opens a world of opportunity for violent crime (armed robbery, murder, muggings).

      Effectively concealing lethal weapons under such a garment is a piece of cake. You can stab or shoot someone in plain sight without even having to pull the weapon outside of the robe.

      However, if people want to walk around naked on the street, I have no objections.

  7. Religious abuse starts the moment that a child is told that there IS a god, one who watches over you to keep you safe and also sees everything bad that you do and will keep a record and when you die you will go to hell and burn forever. Of course, if you’re good, you will spend forever in heaven with God or Jesus.

    Religious abuse, most definitely.

  8. “Where Do We Draw the Line on Religious Abuse?”

    May I humbly suggest we draw the line at telling impressionable children that anything – anything at all – is “true” unless it is wholly supported by evidence?

  9. It’s simple: does the accommodation harm anyone? Refusing to marry a gay couple if you are a secular Justice of the Peace harms people. Refusing to dispense contraceptives if you are a pharmacist harms people. Wearing a small cross or other religious symbol doesn’t harm anyone as you hand out drivers licenses perform other government jobs.

    I have mixed feeling about religious garb that covers the face. You have to remove it for court, getting your picture taken for passport, but should it be banned in public? As much as I dislike the idea of covering your face in public, and as much as I suspect the women I see covered are coerced by male relations, I still feel that the law should not interferer on how competent adults behave if it harms no one but themselves.

  10. There is no legal justification for tolerating any religious abuse whatsoever. We can pretty much draw the line where ever we like and religion had better just shut up and accept it.

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