Is democracy compatible with freedom of religion?

43


Discussion by: interestingfact

I find a contradiction in my mind. I believe that everyone has the right to believe as they wish, however, a large group of people all believing the same bad idea could negatively influence public policy. I completely oppose the right of someone to pass a law that would, for example, allow the public stoning of homosexuals. How can one accept democracy, yet not be happy to sit by if the popular vote mandates a cruel abuse of human rights? Protesting and sticking up posters while thousands of people suffer horrible fates seems so futile. Why should such a law ever be allowed to pass in the first place, even if the people vote for it? On the other hand, saying “I believe in democracy, but…” has echoes of the totalitarian.

What are your views on this?

Thank you.

43 COMMENTS

  1. Democracy does not guarantee freedom, justice and liberty. I think it the mass idolatory of this mythical aspect of democracy is problematic in itself. It is supposed to be a system, not an end in itself. Think rationally, do not rely on a system to solve every one of your problems.

  2. Democracy is not enough. It can become the tyranny of the majority. For freedom of religion and freedom from religion to flourish, the state must be secular. A secular state is one where no preference is given to any one religion or to religion as opposed to none.

  3. Democracy works, because it is in all our interests to pull together, and cooperate for a better society. We call this ‘the social contract.’ Anything that deviates from the path towards a better society violates the principles that validates democracy. It is the principles validating democracy, and not democracy itself (whatever that is) that we must strive to uphold. If believing idiotic stories harms nobody, then people who do so should be treated kindly, in accord with the social contract. If believing idiotic stories causes people to violate the well-being of others, or impede the flourishing of society, then actions can legitimately be taken to prevent such behaviour.

    There is no contradiction between concepts of freedom and responsibility. They both arise naturally from the social contract, and are limited by it, in a coherent manner.

  4. You are correct that although democratic is the most fair and most just form of government ever devised, “tyranny of the mob” is a huge problem. Democracy is not perfect. You should read about Kohlberg’s scale of Moral Development http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~ncoverst/Kohlberg's%20Stages%20of%20Moral%20Development.htm
    You appear to have reached the highest stage because you have noticed the problems with democracy.
    You are correct that tyrannical laws should never be passed in the first place. Laws are only valid if they are based on morality and have an intention of providing happiness to the greatest number of people. A moral human being vehemently opposes all unjust laws because they are wrong. Laws have absolutely no effect on morality. If you think this way, people will oppose you, but they are wrong.
    Personally, I believe in democracy, but I will not respect any law not in the best interest of all people.

  5. Democracy is absolutely compatible with freedom of religion; in fact, I am not sure democracy can happen without freedom of religion.

    There’s nothing that says that democracy must lead to public policy that accomplishes whatever personal goals you have in mind; it’s just a system for how to make decisions.

  6. Democracy can lead to the “tyranny of the majority”. People can vote in governments that will suppress their basic rights and freedoms, just look at Iran, Egypt, or the USA. But freedom of thought and expression is such an important freedom that any good government is going to support it even when it is used to express ideas that are obviously wrong.

    The cure to people believing in ideas and policies that are actually harmful to themselves and their neighbors is education, not the suppression of basic rights. This means progress will not be a straight line heading up, but a series of ups and downs that, hopefully, trend up to a more moral and just society.

  7. You’re confusing the base definition of democracy with the system that it’s become shorthand for. That system is a democratically governed society with guaranteed rights that cannot be voted away by the majority. Only rights plus democratic rule approximates a free society. Democracy by itself is tyranny of the majority, by definition.

    This is pretty basic stuff.

  8. I think you are making a fairly simple error. You are adopting the framing of the bigots. Passing a law that discriminates against gays has nothing to do with the free exercise of religion. That’s just what the proponents of such laws say to justify bigotry. Freedom of religion (and free speech in general) means that any citizen is free to believe, read, or advocate any idea no matter how stupid and it’s not the business of the state to pass laws that interfere with that freedom. But, and it’s a big but, there is a caveat that this freedom stops when speech bleeds over into action and when those actions start intruding on the rights of other people.

    So freedom of religion does not give someone the right to restrict the right of someone else to get married. If your point is that democracy is not perfect and that sometimes laws can get passed which are actually bigotry disguised as law and that religion is a big reason that such laws end up getting passed I agree completely. But as usual my answer is the way to address stupid speech is with more speech, smarter speech it is not to try and ban the stupidity, that never works anyway and is counter productive.

    This is a good example of self deception by bigots. No one but a sociopath wants to get up and proclaim they are for bigotry or that they feel better about themselves because they can laugh at and put down another group of people. So naturally they create rationalizations — and IMO they actually believe them themselves — that their bigotry is about freedom of religion and free speech when any rational analysis clearly shows that it’s not. You can see this clearly if you look at the way slavery and civil rights have been discussed in US history. The supporters of slavery and African American bigotry never say “I like having slaves because they do all the hard work and it’s a lot cheaper than hiring people” They rationalize with arguments about “state’s rights” and “traditions”.

  9. Your point re: democracy being no guarantee of human rights etc is well made… Adolf Hitler for example was democractically elected which was of course no help to the Jews. To paraphrase ideas already expressed herein, democracy is the worst of all possible systems except for all the rest. Some polities have attempted to mitigate the possibility of a democracy losing the plot so to speak by having a Bill of Rights or similar that sets out the minimum rights of individuals in a democracy, again however these can be over-ridden.

    A democracy is only as good as the abilities and education of its participants. If the voting public are a collection of pointless ignoramuses such as is the case in Russia, then yes you will get laws based on superstitious nonsense such as the gay propaganda law whose sole purpose is to relegate a portion of the community to a social purgatory to curry favor with conservatives, a purgatory they seek to make escape proof by eliminating even the possibility of criticising the lies employed to justify it. In short, rubbish in, rubbish out.

    Representative democracy is by no means flawless, it is rather a work in progress one whose achievements need to be safeguarded and not taken for granted requiring a wide franchise and decent public education to ensure buy-in on the part of those participating. If a democracy relegates certain groups to the status of undesirables and deprives this group of the rights enjoyed by others for specious or illigitimate reasons then the democratic social contract has effectively been broken and those so treated should be considered under no obligation to adhere to the rules made to deprive them of freedom rather than confer it. Take from that what you will.

  10. There are several things that can’t be put to popular vote and it hasn’t interfered with American democracy. We won’t have a popular vote restricting free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assembly, allowing quartering of soldiers, allowing unreasonable searches, restricting the right to not incriminate oneself, or the right to a speedy trial and trial by jury, excessive bail, or anything else enumerated in the bill of rights because the cannot be changed. Other provisions in the Constitution cannot be changed solely by popular vote. 

    If it were a matter of popular vote, slavery might not have been abolished because the South voted by popular vote to keep it. 

    If we had a pure democracy and direct voting there might be an argument that not allowing popular votes on some subjects interferes with it. But we don’t have a pure democracy and the United States would not have lasted if it had had one. 

    • In reply to #11 by louise:

      There are several things that can’t be put to popular vote and it hasn’t interfered with American democracy. We won’t have a popular vote restricting free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assembly, allowing quartering of soldiers, allowing unreasonable search…

      That isn’t really true. Anything can be put before people in a popular vote. There are laws proposed every year, e.g., against abortion, that are clearly unconstitutional, just as much as a law against certain kinds of speech would be. Indeed there have been laws that were passed that interfered with basic rights such as the right to assemble. The Alien and Sedition acts for example passed by John Adams in fear of the British sympathizers in the conflict with Britain. Lincoln passed some similar laws during the Civil War. The Sedition Act of 1918 was according to Wikipedia designed to “protect wartime morale by deporting putatively undesirable political people”.

      Now I guess you can say that none of those were put before the people in a vote but that’s more an example of how a representative democracy works, before modern times virtually nothing was directly put to the people in a vote, they voted for representatives who enact the laws. But even if we restrict it to modern times the proposition system allows people to put all kinds of really stupid ideas to Americans to vote on and those can include things that are unconstitutional. Proposition 8 in California was a good example. It was eventually ruled unconstitutional but it was enacted by popular vote and was enforced for a brief time before it was ruled unconstitutional.

      The way the US system is structured you can’t rule a law to be unconstitutional until it’s actually been made a law so in theory all our rights can potentially be put to a vote. I remember when I was a kid being appalled to learn that in opinion polls when people were presented with some of the basic freedoms from the Bill of Rights — not identified as parts of the bill of rights but just asked “would you ever be in favor of laws that prohibited hippies from saying nasty things” they often will agree to curtailing or eliminating speech for people they don’t like.

  11. There are several things that can’t be put to popular vote and it hasn’t interfered with American democracy. We won’t have a popular vote restricting free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assembly, allowing quartering of soldiers, allowing unreasonable searches, restricting the right to not incriminate oneself, or the right to a speedy trial and trial by jury, excessive bail, or anything else enumerated in the bill of rights because they cannot be changed. Other provisions in the Constitution cannot be changed solely by popular vote. We have a Republic form of democracy, which allows democratic governing to continue without destroyong itself. There are no pure democracies.

    If it were a matter of popular vote, slavery would not have been abolished because the South would vote, by popular vote, to keep it, at least for many years.

    If we had a pure democracy and direct voting there might be an argument that not allowing popular votes on some subjects interferes with it. But we don’t have a pure democracy and the United States would not have lasted if it had had one because the voters would eventually have voted themselves out of all democratic and rational ideals. Beware of absolutes and absolute forms of government.

  12. Democracy only works with an educated and informed electorate. A Democratic Republics works best with educated, informed and honorable (or accountable) representatives.

    Democracy is not inherently good. Unprincipled or ideological thinking and misinformation can make any democracy its own worst enemy.
    Similarly, ideology, corruption and subjective reasoning among representatives pervert the boon of Democratic Republics.
    An educated, informed, benevolent Dictatorship is probably capable of doing the greatest good. Determine the best course and execute it. But of course the government is only as good as the single fallible and mortal leader.

    Are Democracy and religion incompatible? Show me a religion that is not ideological, that does not claim authority over social interaction and promotes skeptical inquiry over intractable belief and devotion and I will find them compatible. But the religions we have conflict with the prerequisites of a good Democracy and a good Democratic Republic.

    If you insist on clinging to your religions then render unto your religion that which belongs to your religion and render unto the State that which is civil and social.

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  14. While I support the right of anyone to vote as they see fit. I believe and try to promote the idea (amoung friends, students and anyone else who will listen) that good citizens vote in such a way as to maintain a secular society. For example I would not vote for a govenrment that would force euthenasia on everyone or force say the Catholic Church to marry homosexuals, or have female priests, celibate priests etc. Ridiculous beliefs that they are, I still want them to have the right to hold them. I wish they would be more honest about their beliefs actually as it will hassen their decline. However where the religious overstep the mark morally if not legally is in endevoring to legislate their distorted morality on the rest of us. If a society is founded on the principles of secularity and shared rights then this sort of thing should be unlikely (perhaps less likely) to happen.

    My father in law (an anglican minister – evangelical not the athiest type) has shifted his position on R.E. in schools and tax free status, partially because he is fairly progressive, but also beacuse of what he percieves as a rise in fundermentalist islamic schools and he doesn’t want the competition having the same infulence on students and at tax payers expense as the anglican church has had unfettered for many years. So because they cannot have laws that allow one groups to proselitise in school hours and not another he can see that perhaps it would be better if no-one did.

    Fortunately here in Australia we have a majority of people vote for a local representative who combined make a parliment to represent all of us.

  15. Religious freedom (including the right of non-believers) is recognized as a human right (and everyone is free unless one violates others rights) and, of course, all democratic countries should guarantee basic human rights.The targeted of human rights are individuals, not countries or traditions as far as basic human rights should be accepted everywhere equally. I have noticed Islamic countries fear democarcy (which means religious freedom), although demanding at the same time recognition of rights against discrimination “islamophobia”, using the freedom they would never accept others could have ( freedom of religion) and use free speech to deliver messages such as “behead those who insult the prophet” “Jesus is a prophet” etc.
    How can one live among others demanding for oneself rights that doesn´t accept others should have -equal rights?

    The fear of democracy comes of course from the authority of the clergy in those countries.

  16. Diversity is necessary for adaptability, and adaptability and selectivity are two things that help both organisms and species to survive from an evolutionary standpoint. Since survival is good, societies will want systems to encourage selection on the basis of the good of society (for example, a capitalist market that ensures people reward each other for the good things they do by making them pay each other for things, or some of the socialist health care systems in Europe that pay doctors based on their success rate relative to other doctors in the same field), and systems to encourage diversity, both genetic and memetic (anti-discrimination laws, free speech and expression, etc.). How much freedom vs government control you have is only important in terms of how it affects your ability to maximize positive selectivity for good traits while maintaining an adequate level of diversity.

    Respecting freedom of religion is a matter of maintaining diversity. Religious people often think differently than atheists, and members of different religions often think differently from each other, so it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be lenient towards people with different beliefs. Where religious harm begins and ends is often subjective; some people believe that teaching creationism in place of science is harmful, but is it more harmful to society than jailing nonbelievers and losing their productivity? Or stifling the ideas of people who think differently? The Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate featured videos from multiple scientists who had made significant contributions to both biology and engineering despite being wrong about both evolution and historical physics. Would losing their contributions to our understanding of epigenetics and satellite technology be worth whatever we would gain from convincing more people of what scientific reality is?

    In my opinion, the system that best maintains diversity while encouraging positive selection is one of local governmental control. When you allow each community to choose where to draw the lines and keep those decisions at the local level, you allow for more experimentation. Communities that suppress violent, discriminatory religious groups will prevent unnecessary harm to citizens who may be good contributors to society, while communities that suppress harmless differences of belief will tend to lose the most capable and successful members of the oppressed group, who will go to more tolerant communities and help them thrive (consider the many Jewish scientists who fled Germany after WWII and contributed to the prosperity of the USA and Britain). At higher levels of government, you need to be more careful about the kinds of restrictions you oppose, because any mistakes you make will affect far more people, and many of our politicians aren’t smart enough to make the right decisions until they’ve seen someone else succeed in practice by making those decisions.

    • In reply to #18 by StoryTimeWithJesus:

      In my opinion, the system that best maintains diversity while encouraging positive selection is one of local governmental control. When you allow each community to choose where to draw the lines and keep those decisions at the local level, you allow for more experimentation.

      I don’t agree. I’m not saying local control is necessarily bad, I just think saying either that local or more national/global control is either good or bad in itself is too simplistic an analysis. Local control can be good or it can be awful. The US and civil rights for blacks and now gays is a perfect example. When I was taught in school about the US civil war the people who tried to make out that the South weren’t just racists used to talk about “state’s rights”. The South wasn’t fighting so they could continue to own slaves, of course not, it was all about state’s rights, they didn’t like the North telling them to stop owning slaves.

      And also when I was a kid I remember all the arguments from racists mostly in the South but also in some large cities when federal authorities tried to do things like desegregate schools and police/fire departments. No one said “we like giving all the good jobs to white people and we want to keep doing it” They said “we don’t like the federal government telling us what to do” or “the North doesn’t understand Southern culture” and so on.

      And the same arguments are being used now against equal rights for gays. I was actually just seing a humorous (in the sense of you either have to laugh or vomit) story about Oklahoma where some politicians actually were floating the idea that marriage in Oklahoma would be banned. Not gay marriage any marriage. Their feeling was if the feds were going to tell them that gays have the rights to get married than they would rather just stop letting anyone get married. It was seriously discussed and I think there was even a bill in the Oklahoma legislature but it didn’t get quite enough votes. Enough people realized what a laughing stock it would make them. BTW, the Oklahoma legislature wasn’t idle though they did manage to pass a big solar tax. No, not a tax to subsidize solar power a tax ON SOLAR POWER! A tax to encourage people to keep using fossil fuels and to penalize them if they used solar instead!

      Had to pause and practice my techniques for keeping blood pressure under control. Better now. So I’m sorry if I can’t get enthused about the idea that local governments are always the best. Of course I’m sure someone can come up with plenty of examples where local governments do very smart, rational, things. I just think looking at how “local” something is when it comes to politics is irrelevant to how rational or moral it is. Local can be great but local can also be racist, theocratic, science deniers.

      • The cry for “states rights” is often (though not always of course) code for racism and homophobia, among other delights. Just look toward the always amusing secession hungry Texans for a good example of this.

        In reply to #19 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #18 by StoryTimeWithJesus:

        In my opinion, the system that best maintains diversity while encouraging positive selection is one of local governmental control. When you allow each community to choose where to draw the lines and keep those decisions at the local level, you allow for more e…

        • In reply to #20 by Steven007:

          The cry for “states rights” is often (though not always of course) code for racism and homophobia, among other delights. Just look toward the always amusing secession hungry Texans for a good example of this.

          Exactly. But “not always” is the key thing. Several years ago I was talking with other Californians about California’s medical marijuana law. it came up that if the law passed the reaction from the federal government would probably not be to go along and various sellers and even users would still be subject to arrest. Everyone was whining about how the federal government should just leave us alone at which point I said something like “notice how when it’s in our interests suddenly WE are the ones that fight for state’s rights”

          To me state vs. local is irrelevant. Political actions should be guided by rationality coupled with basic rights for everyone (including non humans). Those are the principles I use to evaluate a political decision and they pretty much are the same whether local or global.

  17. I am atheist. My sister turned out (we never talked about it) theist, allthough she is not fan of organized churh. So far no problems. I do not know what will happen if our secular (officaly) state introduces compulory Bible studies to educate children in history and literature (sort of), but I pretty well know that I will order through Amazon all books of Brick Bible and use my rights of aunt to talk about other aspects of things written in the book.
    As to the situation in general: yes, it is a problem, and not because of the believers, but, as Daniel Dennett said: belief in belief. For example, we here have no health education just because Cardinal announced that no sex before marriage is all teens need to know about health (yes, he did), but do we have to blame him for being old sex obsessed idiot (he had also declared that victims of pedophiles deserved it for being gay) or journalists, teachers and politicians who asked his opinion. Allthough he was not competent.
    So the only way is to work and educate society so that it comes to conclusion: churches should be treated like any other organisations and the should be for example entitled to government money or tax benefits if the serve community without recruiting new members or maintaining the interesto of the old ones. But such education will be very, very difficult…

  18. Hi interestingfact,

    Adiroth and Aldous (Comments 1& 2) seem to be addressing the main problem with your ideas.

    Democracy is often used, confusingly, in the media as shorthand for a modern political structure which supports a free (compared to other political structures) people.

    Democracy (one person one vote – meaning an equal say, with elections free from coercion – using techniques like secret ballots and polling stations, for posts that are open to all candidate citizens) is only a small part of what most people mean when they discuss democracy. It is only one principle among many that are not agreed on.

    For example: I would argue that if a society wants to call itself free then an independent judiciary is essential. But the actual core idea of democracy doesn’t call for such a thing, and some even claim that an independent judiciary potentially undermines democracy.

    How can one accept democracy, yet not be happy to sit by if the popular vote mandates a cruel abuse of human rights?

    This question highlights the biggest problem with democracy; how to stop it becoming mob rule.

    This is why the United States and some other countries have written constitutions. At a time when everyone is feeling high-minded they gather their leaders together to agree on guiding principles, then write that agreement down to try and avoid arguing over it later. The aim is to ensure that when times are hard no-one can ‘forget’ that the principles must come first.

    That’s the theory. In practice, of course, politicians can’t resist fiddling and just because something is written down (sometimes because it is written down) arguments over meaning, context and application are never ending. But I digress.

    In order to stop democracy devolving into mob rule we find countries adopting many other principles: Free speech, the right of assembly, secularism, universal education, the aforementioned judiciary, and so on …

    Protesting and sticking up posters while thousands of people suffer horrible fates seems so futile.

    That’s how democracy works. You have to persuade other people that you’re both morally right, AND that it is worth the time and effort to get involved. You must do this in the free market of ideas, where everyone else seems to be lying and cheating and getting away with it.

    Why should such a law ever be allowed to pass in the first place, even if the people vote for it?

    Because that’s democracy – everyone has an equal say; the Bigot, the ignorant, the stupid, the vested interest, the Cheat, the power-hungry-for-its-own-sake, the Group, the gullible, the Chancer, the Gambler, the Prankster, the easily led and many more pathetic and unsavoury characters besides.

    In this way we keep the peace. We greatly reduce the possibility that some will feel isolated or put-upon.

    Some of this problem can be addressed. Education has a huge part to play. Democracy is based on the assumption that all voters have equal access to information – that we make choices based on an equal understanding of the options. Clearly this is complete rubbish. How many people get their information from a newspaper, a ‘shock jock’ on the radio, or from a commercial conglomerate TV channel? Even if all these information outlets gave factual and properly qualified information without Op-Ed spin can we all assimilate and weigh the evidence with equal intelligence, detachment and wit.

    To summarise, democracy is only one of several principles required to build a free society. Which principles make that list is debated still. Most countries never actually address the underlying question: What is a free society? Politicians like mobs! until they riot or protest too much. Politicians therefore habitually back political structures that undermine equal access to information (and thereby democracy).

    Peace.

    • In reply to #23 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

      Hi interestingfact,

      Adiroth and Aldous (Comments 1& 2) seem to be addressing the main problem with your ideas.

      Democracy is often used, confusingly, in the media as shorthand for a modern political structure which supports a free (compared to other political structures) people.

      Excellent summary. A free an independent judiciary is vital for a functioning democracy. Sadly, the judiciary is being politicized in America by the selection of judges with known political bias. For any judge to qualify for a position on a higher court, it should be impossible to predict from previous judgements or statements, which way that judge would vote on any particular issue. It should be that any judicial decision is decided on the interpretation of the laws enacted by politicians. The judges should be of such character that they are immune to any personal bias, and should not participate in public political debate. The current American procedure of politicizing the judiciary is a threat to American democracy.

      I would add one further element for a civilized functioning democracy. You cannot have a civilized functioning democracy with a fiercely independent free press. The Fourth Estate. It is the independent press, that should report without fear or favour, the facts of any case. It is the independent press, that puts the spotlight and the blow torch on the activities of all politicians. Dissects and examines political issues and reports with fierce independence. If you don’t have a media that can do this, political biases can be promulgated, hidden and protected. Corruption can flourish. Corruption is the cancer that kills democracy. There is a correlation between the freedom of the press in a country, and the health of its democracy.

      Sadly again in America, your press is no longer free or independent. It has become party political and partisan to both sides of politics. I thought Australia’s media was bad, but on a recent tour of America I tried to listen and watch as much American commentary as I could. It was like listening to election commercials for both parties. FOX News!!! NBC!!! Again, America’s democracy is under threat because the citizens do not have access to independent commentary of politics. PBS seemed the best that I heard.

      As for religion in politics, I will stay with America. If they could, the conservative right wing of America would enact a theocracy. “In God We Trust”. I see no difference between the Tea Party and the Mullah’s of Iran. The Tea Party and the conservative fundamentalist christian right are identical to the Afghani Taliban. Extremist religious fanatics.

      • In reply to #24 by David R Allen:

        Sadly again in America, your press is no longer free or independent. It has become party political and partisan to both sides of politics.

        I agree with everything else you said but I don’t agree that the US press is partisan on “both sides”. There is IMO a clear right wing corporate bias in the main stream US press.

        Here is an example, if you listen to people discuss health care in the US press you will hear two different points of view. One view is that the free market is the only solution to healthcare and that the government has no role in helping ensure that all citizens have healthcare. In this view things like the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) are “socialism” and an intrusion into the freedom of Americans. That is what passes for the “right wing” view in the US press.

        The alternative view is that things like the ACA is the best solution and that we need to just continue to tweak the system in that way. That is the “left” view in the US press.

        But neither of those views is an actual left view. You can listen to the US press almost non stop talking about healthcare and NEVER hear a serious discussion of the option that the rest of the civilized world has embraced: actual universal healthcare. It’s not that this option is spoken against, it’s virtually never even mentioned. And the so called “left” option, the ACA is actually a product of the Heritage Institute — a right wing corporate think tank and before Obama adopted ACA it was championed by people like Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.

        This is just one example, sorry I rambled a bit there but I wanted to make the point, the information presented to Americans is clearly biased, universal healthcare provided by the government isn’t even discussed as a viable option in spite of the fact that the data clearly shows that the US spends far more GDP on healthcare with outcomes that are far worse than the rest of the industrialized world. And I could provide similar examples in regard to climate change, foreign policy, etc.

        • In reply to #25 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #24 by David R Allen:

          Sadly again in America, your press is no longer free or independent. It has become party political and partisan to both sides of politics.

          I agree with everything else you said but I don’t agree that the US press is partisan on “both sides”. There is IMO a clear r…

          I’ve followed the Obama Care debate from Australia, with open mouth agognesssss. I can’t believe the statements I hear that universal health care is communism. We have universal health care in Australia. Most of the G30 have universal health care. It is the civilized norm in civilized democracy. What I can’t understand is how the right in America still thinks that universal health care is communism, or that communism is still considered an issue or a threat. I’ve asked Americans to name the communist countries of the world. They start “China. North Korea. Cuban…” then they run out of steam. China is 3000 years of capitalism with one party rule, interrupted by 50 years of madness. North Korea is a feudal monarchy. Cuban is socialist at best, but it is about to become an open market. They’re just waiting for Fidel and Raoul to die. There are no communist countries in the pure sense, on the planet.

          The other thing that stuns me about American democracy is how far to the extreme right is has moved. In Australia, the American Democrats would be on the right edge of the bell curve. The Republicans and the Tea Party would be considered lunatic fringe. Akin to our Family First Party.
          http://www.familyfirst.org.au/

          Our left wing party, the Labor party is a middle of the road free market social conscience party. It seemed to me from the impression I got during my tour, that America is stuck back in the 50′s still fighting the cold war while the rest of the world has moved on. Civilization has moved on. My fear is that America will become impotent as its views no longer reflect the reality of 2014.

          On this topic, the fact that both Democrats and Republicans must be {Or appear to be} religious before they can have any chance of election. Our outgoing Prime Minister was an atheist in a defacto relationship. I find parallels with America and other theocracies around the world. It might be an example of how a constitution can be secular, while the politicians are religious, who vote according to their religions. A secular constitution is no guarantee of freedom from religion. The rest of the world is leaving America behind.

  19. In reply #25 and #26

    I’ve heard universal health care in the US equated with communism as well. We have relatives across North America, from Canada in the east, The west coast of USA and even a family in Arizona. We’ve visited them many times in the past and their opinions always come as a surprise. There is a diverse range of opinion I might add.

    Our group in Arizona represent the religious right. They have recently converted from the Episcopalian Church to Roman Catholicism…that’s right, it’s not a typo. They’re quick to bring up the topic of health care as they’re emphatically against it. When we’ve suggested that the Canadians enjoy the benefits of universal coverage they’re apoplectic! In their opinion it’s a communist plot and people should be made to suffer the consequences of any unwise choices they’ve made in regard to their choice of lifestyle.

    We try demonstrate that free health care is like free education….every citizen should be entitled to the benefits of these things. They’re not impressed by our rhetoric and are probably praying for our souls at this very moment.

    • In reply to #27 by Nitya:

      We try demonstrate that free health care is like free education….every citizen should be entitled to the benefits of these things. They’re not impressed by our rhetoric and are probably praying for our souls at this very moment.

      With some people no matter what you say it’s probably not going to have an impact. But for what it’s worth when I argue with people who think universal healthcare is communism — and I don’t argue with such people very often, I get too angry and frustrated and it’s just not worth it but when I do — I like to use economic arguments. Even just from the standpoint of being a “fiscal conservative” universal healthcare makes a lot of sense. You can see it in public health data: by several objective measurements (e.g. infant mortality) the US has awful healthcare compared to nations like Canada, UK, etc. It’s a documentable empirical fact that our healthcare system objectively sucks. Yet at the same time significantly more of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) goes to healthcare than those other nations.

      So even from the standpoint of a good capitalist who reads The Economist and wants to keep their workers employed and productive and wants to keep consumers spending and helping to keep the economy going and their stock portfolios high, even from a purely Ayn Rand selfish bastard standpoint universal healthcare makes sense.

      Just to be clear I would be for universal healthcare even if that wasn’t true because I agree with you that people have basic rights and basic healthcare should be one of those rights. But I know that argument doesn’t fly with some people so I like the economic sense argument.

  20. Of course you’re going to be able to find examples of states making poor decisions under states rights; there are more states making more decisions, many of them will screw up. But so will federal governments. When the federal government screws up, the entire country is affected; when a state government screws up, their state suffers while other states do not. Before the federal US government abolished slavery, they spent many decades returning runaway slaves to slave states by force, and the abolitionists in the free states voted to nullify federal law and refuse to return runaway slaves. When the federal government was wrong on returning runaway slaves to slave states, state rights and local control prevented them from enforcing it.

    Today we have a war on drugs that is enforced in a racially biased manner. Blacks are less likely to use drugs than whites, but 4 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes and 10 times more likely to spend time in jail for them. The federal government is almost unanimously against ending the war on drugs, but multiple states have legalized marijuana and over twenty have allowed medical marijuana. The federal government passed a defense of marriage act years ago preventing gay marriage. We didn’t start to move forward on the issue until states legalized gay marriage in spite of the federal government’s ban. State’s rights gives us a more fluid system that can allow for experimentation and help the country move forward.

    Part of the reason for Europe’s success is you have many nations of roughly equal size and power all directly competing with each other. Britain, France, Germany, and Russia have sizable populations and large economies. Spain, Poland, Finland, Italy, etc. are close enough in size to compete. If one country screws something up, they have to adapt quickly or be overpowered by whichever neighbors got it right. The US has no comparably sized neighbors, no close competition, so we will have to create it from within to keep ourselves adaptable. The benefit of state’s rights is the benefit of diversification, and everyone from ecologists to investors knows how important it is to diversify.

  21. Two inspiring quotes about democracy choosen by some political scientist in his blog (Whom I know from my faculty of social and political science):

    “Because we invented the rule of law, to fail to have an owner, as Pliny said.

    Just do not be afraid, as the draft Etienne la Boetie: “n’ayez pas peur”. In “volontaire servitude” large or petty tyrant only have the power that we give them “

    Of course all people need to be educated to understand democracy and about citizenship from an early age and everything a muslim child learns in a madrassa is holy scripture´s verses, perhaps not History, not Biology, not humanism from a serious point of view.

  22. I am a town councilmember in a small town in the Nebraska Panhandle (128 people). I was appointed to the position upon the death of another member, after living here only two years.

    Like many states, Nebraska has chosen not to participate in the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for the indigent. But as a disabled veteran, I do not use the insurance system for healthcare, I use the Veterans Administration.

    With a particular news network here constantly banging the drum of “Obamacare is socialism” (as if socialism is a bad thing, like fire departments and police and the military and public roads &c), a typical conversation between me and a new person I meet about healthcare might go like this:

    “So you are a disabled veteran?”
    “Yes, I served seventeen years in the US Navy.”
    “Well, thank you for your service. Do you get care from the Veterans Administration?”
    “Yes, and Bloomberg Business Week and Forbes Magazines have rated the VA system as the best healthcare delivery system in the United States.”
    “Well, our vets deserve good care.”
    “You are aware the VA is a socialist system? The government owns the hospitals and facilities, employs the physicians, dentists, nurses, and staff, purchases medications and equipment through tax money and government contracts.”
    “NO! It’s not socialist! Our vets deserve good care.” (As if “good care” and “socialised medicine” are contrary positions.)
    “Well, don’t you think all Americans deserve good care?”

    Though my entire community is religious (except my wife), they appointed me to the town council and have encouraged me to run in the November general election. But it is tough for them to square “disabled veteran” and “socialism” in the same sentence.

  23. I’m not sure how this question specifically relates to freedom of religion. It could relate to any kind of so-called ‘bad ideas’. I, for example, think it’s outrageous for the government to steal money from people who work so as to give it to people who don’t work, as well as to create a huge bureaucracy to administer to these non-workers. I also think it’s outrageous that Richard Branson has to pay more tax than me, despite the fact that we both use the same roads, call the same Fire Brigade, are guarded by the same army etc. Why does he pay both more tax and at a higher rate than me? I don’t know. Because someone once decided that those with more, regardless of how hard they worked, should give to those with less, regardless of how little they have done to to help themselves.

    Unless I can form a large enough group of like-minded people who have the power to secede from the state, as Scotland is voting on doing from the UK, I don’t know what you do about any of this. My dream is to have two UKs, one UK with a welfare state and one without. The welfare state would soon go under because all the hangers-on would go to live there while most of the workers (except for the holier-than-thou progressive liberals) would choose to live in non-welfare state UK. Yet since secession isn’t really an option, workers have no choice but to hand over their wages to the government heavies, who then pass it on to their clients, the feckless.

    As you probably know, what is a ‘bad idea’ is quite subjective. I think your question is a good one but I also get the impression you think that bad ideas come labelled appropriately and that they align precisely and obviously with the views of other people, never with you. I hate to break this to you but we all feel like that, even those of us who actually hold what you probably think of as ‘bad ideas’. All you are really asking is if there is a way of stripping people who disagree with you of their power to influence public affairs.

      • In reply to #36 by bluebird:

        In reply to #32 by keith:

        people who don’t work – how little they have done

        Did you break bread with Cliven Bundy the other day?

        I have no idea who Clive Bundy is but I’ll break bread, or anything else for that matter, with anyone who agrees with me.

        Perhaps, Bluebird, see people as purely victims of circumstance who have as little control over their lives as they have over the weather. I don’t.

      • In reply to #36 by bluebird:

        In reply to #32 by keith:

        people who don’t work – how little they have done

        Did you break bread with Cliven Bundy the other day?

        The guy who wrote that is from the UK and probably has no idea, but way to dismiss his argument by fallacious association rather than on its merits.

        When we have 7 billion people in this world, climate change that’s occurring due to overconsumption of scarce natural resources, drought and groundwater loss and topsoil loss in many of our biggest agricultural regions, economies based on the use of dwindling fossil fuels with no sustainable replacements that are anywhere near as efficient as oil, and a wide variety of environmental problems from massive amounts of trash dumped into the ocean screwing up wildlife to groundwater contamination from chemicals spilled and dumped while mining the metals needed to make solar panels and wind turbines, I think it’s entirely within reason to say that if you want to enjoy the benefits of society’s productivity, you need to be contributing to solving at least some of society’s problems, considering we have so many more looming problems than solutions, and so many of them are contributed to by those 7 billion people needing to eat and travel and heat their homes.

  24. I think what you are really asking is whether religious people will always force their views upon others if they are not kept in “shackles”. That of course depends on what religion we are discussing. There are of course religions that could never co-exist peacefully with other religions. But, there are also religions that really stress that beliefs are individual. And everything in between. I think a better way to look at this, is to realize that some beliefs are not compatible with others. I have such beliefs as well. I could for example never accept torture or bigotry. In that sense I could never live in harmony in a society that accepts torture or bigotry. So, in order for a democracy to work the majority of the people have to have beliefs that are compatible with each other. With compatible I mean, that they can co-exist within the borders of a community.

  25. The three Abrahamic religions once coexisted peacefully, in XII century in Cordova, and I have read some poetry that indicates a great tolerance towards and between every religion, more exactly with equal respect for every human being, written by a “muslim” -and we can be grateful for this period in history because the re-discovery of Aristotle and Plato came through this period and place and was introduced in Europe like this.
    Although the OP mentions stoning homosexuals- a punishment mentioned the Koran ?-I guess, at least death penalty- there is poetry from this period that mentions how in islamic world of this period and place adult men appreciated the beauty of young men and there is some poetry, some governors of the islamic world had young men as lovers, male prostitution was common in Andaluzia in this period, and masculine prostitution was even better rewarded.
    I agree, some “democracy” have-or seem to have- the echoes of the totalitarian, but I believe that it comes from people that don´t quite understand democracy, at least more close to Aristotle thought for whom democracy was the best political form of governing, although he would accept that monarchy and other political forms could coexist at the same time. I guess Plato would have been much more re-discovered and apreciated by the clergy, which is more close to totalitarian and stresses deep social differences among people living in a society, what the clergy really means by it´s differenciation in clothing and even in the relationship between the clergy and lay people- Ratzinger even forbidden the portuguese clergy to speak openly to the lay population-
    Can you imagine this from a philosopher of Enlightenment?

  26. l though Aristotle would accept that monarchy and other political forms could coexist at the same time, as democracy and monarchy at the same time.

    No one to correct me? that is wrong from Aristotle´s point of view, but at least in Great Britain it can form a stable form of governing without tirany.

    These would be good pages (if anyone can translate them).

    Democracy for Aristotle does not have the echoes of totalitarism, rather the opposite, tirany is what is best avoided.

    http://www.cadernoterritorial.com/news/as-formas-de-governo-em-aristoteles-lorrana-da-silva-tinoco/

    http://www.edubraga.pro.br/filosofia-politica/a-historia-de-herodoto-as-formas-de-governo-e-as-eleicoes-brasileiras-de-2010/

  27. Yes one of the problems with all types of government from the strictest emporer to the most democratic people’s state is the fact that folks can’t always be trusted to do the right thing. However, I believe that when a government is subject to the consent of the governed, good, plain common sense is more likely to win out. Please witness our last king, George; wasn’t he reputed to be somewhat of a mad man?

  28. Democratic societies often, to a greater or lesser extent, protect the minority from the “Tyranny of the Majority”. A couple of examples from the USA:

    1) The small State of Rhode Island has the same number of Senators in the US Senate as the large State of California.

    2) The government and businesses involved in interstate commerce cannot discriminate based on race, religion, age or national origin.

  29. This is why we have defined natural rights. Whether these rights exist independently of society is for another discussion, what’s important is that we have determined certain rights that cannot be violated (the right to life, property etc.) In our democracy we do not simply abide by the majority because even the majority cannot vote away natural rights. If the majority of the country decided to reinstate slavery it would be inconsistent with democracy because individual freedom is an inalienable right, meaning it cannot be voted away by the majority.

    Democracy and freedom of religion are perfectly compatible so long as we continue to respect the basic natural rights defined by the constitution. Legally allowing the stoning of homosexuals would be less an overreaching of religion than a failure to uphold individual rights. If you see a violation of human rights then you should be unhappy, because the constitution guarantees certain specific rights and even the majority (be they religious or otherwise) cannot simply vote them away.

  30. A “representative democracy” is supposed to help with this situation. A system of professional politicians brings continuity, and provides some insurance against the persecution of the prejudice-du-jour. There may, for example, be a majority of people in a country who believe in Outrageous Measure X (racial or sexual persecution, anti-scientific beliefs, death penalty, etc.), but so long as they cannot agree on everything else, they will not get their way. Politics requires parties with broad appeal, and this tends to weed out the more outrageous and unfair opinions that the public occasonally fall sway to.

  31. Democracy has been hijacked in the ‘west’ ……now its a neo fascist scam…you only get a pre selected option of two or three runners in the religion and bank sponsored election…none of which you would choose based on their presidential performance…people in general didn’t want war…..but they created war….our opinion doesn’t matter cause this is not democracy any more….its all fixed and corrupt. No transparency only surveillance…..

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