ICC Note: While international religious freedom isn’t an issue that is well-recognized by the public, it is one that demands to be taken seriously. Religious freedom is as essential to one’s basic rights as the freedom of speech or freedom of conscience. When the freedom of religion is undermined, all other essential freedoms are subject to attack as well. It is important for the public to stay informed and assist those facing persecution and religious restrictions in order to secure our own threatened freedoms.
By David Anderson
06/19/2014 Canada (Office of MP David Anderson) – Religious freedom is not an issue that shows up on the grid of the average Canadian. In fact, when you mention it to someone, you typically get a range of responses. Some people express a genuine interest, but most people’s eyes slowly glaze over like you told them you wanted to discuss the significance of protein values in wheat. Others stare back at you blankly as their mind races to try and determine how this could possibly be relevant to anything.
But while most may not realize it, religious freedom is extremely relevant for at least three reasons.
First of all, religious freedom matters. Religious freedom is an extension of three foundational rights: Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and freedom of association. History has shown us that religious freedom and democratic freedom are inseparable, and that a decline in one will inevitably result in a decline of the other.
Consequently, it should come as no surprise to us that societies which protect religious freedom are more likely to protect all other fundamental freedoms and are typically more stable and more prosperous. On the other hand, societies which fail to protect religious freedom usually find that the freedoms of conscience, speech and association also come under attack, eroding the very foundations of democracy.
The second reason we should be paying attention to this issue is because religious freedoms are under severe attack in much of the world. Pew Research, a US-based think tank monitoring religious freedom, calculates that 76% of the world’s population currently live in countries which are experiencing high or very high restrictions on religion.
For example, if you are a Christian in Pakistan, you live under the constant shadow of violent extremism and vigilantism. If you are a Muslim living in Burma, Buddhist in China, a Jew in Iran, a Sikh in India, or any of these in North Korea, you may be watched, harassed, censored, detained, intimidated, imprisoned, tortured, or killed, simply because of your religious beliefs. The problem is real and wide-spread.