As the world attempts to figure out the issue of secularism and where exactly it belongs in the grand scheme, many people are grasping for what they perceive to be their religious rights. “Religious rights” in this case being things that people feel they should be entitled to simply for believing in a chosen deity. After all, having the right to practice religious freedom means that people should have the right to practice according to how they perceive their belief to be, right? Perhaps, but when does that “right” cross the line into being intrusive or a burden?
Across the globe, people of varying religions are fighting for a myriad of issues. It’s their right as citizens of what could be called “free countries” to reach for whatever they feel would help them live a better life. However, what if that “right” starts to intrude on how someone else chooses to live? At what point is it necessary to say it is too far over the line?
In New York City, for one example, a Muslim and City Councilman, Robert Jackson has been pushing for additional days to be added to the list of recognised holidays for school-aged children. Now in the regular school calender, this won’t mean a real large effect for the children, as they would only technically miss 5 days over the next decade (assuming one day every other year) to honour a holiday created to pay tribute to a prophet who was willing to sacrifice his own son. While this doesn’t sound like a lot by itself, what happens if all religions start to impose request for their own holidays? How about the Hindu holiday, Diwali (requested by Daniel Drumm, also of NY). How about cultural celebrations, like the Chinese New year (at the behest of Sheldon Silver, an assemblyman for NY), which would grant them two more days if followed based on the request.
With American school children already lagging behind in education, is it wise to add to the number of days off during the school year? With so many cultures and varying faiths, denying children classroom time to honour such a small selection of the population seems like it’s not worth the damage to an already-endangered system of education.
While on the topic of education, why not include the ongoing battle between creationists/intelligent design believers and the evolutionists? Surging around the world is an alarming increase of supporters for the inclusion of what can only be described as a religious-based theory of how humans came to be in existence. Now, the “theory” of creationism is not the same sort of theory as the “theory” of gravity, or the “theory” of evolution. A scientific theory is generally an accepted principle based on tested and proven evidence. Creationism cannot be tested nor proven because it bears no evidence. It is simply an unprovable hypothesis, at this point. Who knows, in the future we may unearth some major find that leaves no room to discuss or argue the reality of creationism, but given the nature of nature that’s not really likely.
Essentially what is happening is that Christians, with people like Ken Ham (young earth creationist, founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum) sounding the charge are shoving their way into schools everywhere in an attempt to inject their unprovable theory into science books to be taught alongside the internationally-accepted scientific theory of evolution. This is certainly not news, and this is not the first time this author has written about creationism either. [If you follow these three links, you will see examples of those stories and links for reference.]However, this is something that should be losing ground and, astonishingly is not.
As a matter of fact, if we look at Texas we see that a recent battle over textbooks was just tentatively won against the creationists. Texas essentially sets the standard for textbooks for all of the United States, so decisions made for the state actually end up effecting students all across the country. At this point, the publishers aren’t being swayed to include the controversial information so for now, our students are safe. However, the final decision is to be made at the meeting in November, with books to be used starting with the Fallsemester in 2014.
If we look across the ocean back over to Scotland, in East Kilbride students have received two books about the subject, “How Do You Know God Is Real?” and “Truth Be Told: Exposing the Myth of Evolution”. These were handed out in a non-denominational school by the Church of Christ, an international church intent on making creationism the accepted reality of how we came to be.
Fortunately, Scotland has organisations like the Scottish Secular Society to stand up and push for changes in how things are being handled, like with their current petition working its way through the Parliament process to change the Religious Observance from an “Opt-Out” to an “Opt-In.” In addition to the Trolling With Logic podcast that chairperson Caroline Lynch was a part of, there is an interview with Mark Gordon discussing his role as a parent and author of the petition for more information.
Stepping away from education is the recent issue with employment in the United Kingdom. A woman is attempting to gain the “right” to not have to work on Sundays as part of her religious observation. She isn’t content to merely have a job that will schedule her on different days. She actually wants it to be a law. Should this ridiculous litigation actually end up successful it means that every Christian in the country would end up with the legal right to Sundays off. As anyone who has ever had to fill a schedule will say, this makes for a logistical nightmare for attempting to fill shifts when all someone has to do is claim religious “right” not to work. Not only that, but it is unfair to those who don’t fall into that category but might like to enjoy a day off with their families. It also brings up other religions and needing days off to accommodate “rights” desired by their followers. Suddenly one woman’s desire to stay home Sunday has created problems for employers and employees alike, when all she had to do was change jobs (which she has already done, one that grants her work-free Sundays).
Having the freedom to practice (or abstain) from religion is a wonderful right that is guaranteed people in free countries across this great planet (although not all countries, yet). However when it starts to cause problems and intrudes on those who would otherwise be unaffected by those freedoms they cease to be rights and actually become burdens. It’s okay to want to believe in a deity, or not believe in any supernatural being. However it’s not right to oppress others with that belief, or make the lives of others inconvenienced as a result of someone wanting to practice those beliefs.