Religious freedom news

It is Independence Day in the USA and we Americans celebrate our freedoms in this great country.   When the Founding Fathers ratified the Constitution of the United States they also amended to it The Bill of Rights - the first 10 Amendments - laying out the basic rights of every US citizen.

The very first of these Amendments in that Bill of Rights deals with Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of Assembly.  Of these most fundamental rights for a free and open society, Freedom of Religion is the very first one that is addressed.  It is at the very top of the list of the most fundamental civil rights.  This is appropriate for a nation that had been settled and founded in the early days by Puritan Pilgrims looking for freedom from an English Government that had sought to impose certain religious beliefs and practices on all its subjects.

We know that in many places today Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech are denied to many peoples; this is the case in Communist Countries, virtually all Muslim-majority countries, and other localities as well.

Many people within the Christian churches in the US are concerned that there is growing intolerance of and inflexibility towards religious practice even in the (mostly free and democratic) Western Nations as well.  Some of this concern may be based upon fear-mongering on the internet with no real basis to it; but I believe some is legitimate and well-founded.

SO as we ponder these serious subjects in the coming days, here are two news stories that connect to them.
First, I celebrate that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and another family-owned (Amish) company.  Both of these companies objected to the new requirements under "Obamacare" (the Affordable Care Act) that they be required to pay for artificial contraceptives (even those which kill an already living human embryo) that the owners of these companies object to on religious grounds.  A common analogy I've heard in conversation about this issue is, "It would be like the government requiring Jews to buy pork for people."

For those who want contraceptives, they are widely available and quite cheap - no one is saying that employees cannot purchase their own contraceptives (plus there is always the common-sense and Biblically-based notion of not having sex if one is not in a position to support children).  Yet the government of a free society should not force people - including people of a family or religious group who band together to form an economic enterprise - to violate their own religious principles.

On the other hand, in Europe, the European Court of Human Rights has upheld a French ban on face-coverings commonly used among Muslims.  The logic of the decision, that face-coverings make "living together" in society "more difficult" is quite vague and seems to me more than a little bit flimsy since one would expect a very specific safety risk would be necessary to justify a law that will in fact limit the freedoms of a small and rather despised religious minority (in this case, French Muslim women).

In my view Europeans are right to be concerned about radical strains within Islam (which seem rather common, even among Muslims raised in the West).  And as a general rule, agree it is indeed a good thing not to live in a society in which people regularly wear masks (though I wonder about the unintended consequences of this ban for wearing masks in public for traditional French All Hallows Eve or Carnival celebrations).  But in a truly free country a religious exemption should have been provided (especially since we are talking about only a couple of thousand Muslim women in all of France) - even if such an exemption itself had qualifications and limitations 'built in' to address the public safety concerns.

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