The limits of religious liberty

Religious liberty—the right to believe whatever one wants to believe—stands as fundamental in America and I believe the case can be made that it's the right thing to do everywhere. The USA allows people to worship god as they see fit, even if other countries disagree, and even if the god in question stands for love, hate, sensory observations, pleasure, academics, or an obsessive desire to worship nothing at all (an areligious religion). It's based in the theory that more freedom yields more prosperity and the fact that no one can change someone else's religious conscience without their permission anyway, at least not yet. 

Obviously, a thinking person finds limits to such freedom. Traditionally, those limits come at the point when one’s beliefs limit the ability of others to exercise their beliefs as they please. You and I can legally discuss our beliefs reasonably and without threat of bodily harm. Anything that one person does that actually harms another person overrules religious liberty. This seems commonly sensible, does it not?

When England’s Theresa May says, “We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breathe,” she’s telling communications businesses to limit the religious liberty of some of their customers. You and I both know that, and neither of us probably likes that terrorists necessitate censorship of religious expression. But murder overrules religious liberty, does it not? Yes, of course it does.

We wonder what’s next if jihadists use today’s communication tools to spread more hate. We also wonder how far the limitations can go—will they limit my religion too?

Questions for The Ethics Award

How much do you limit the peaceful expression of religion at work?

How do you handle it when someone expresses their religion to the point of annoying others?

What’s your organization’s responsibility if you find out that some part of your operation allows members of one religion to harm members of another religion?

If there was a vote next Tuesday to ban from the country religions who practice and promote religious violence, how would you vote? (We can assume there’s a good reason for putting something on the ballot that limits religious liberty. It’s probably a stretch to assume that we can have a sensible, dispassionate conversation about it.)