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Religious Freedom

Many countries across the globe have official state religions and clauses pertaining to religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities. However when interreligious conflicts arise, these constitutional guarantees are brought into question. In this Article I will compare the degrees of religious liberty present in countries with official and unofficial state religions, India and Pakistan, to the United States. The post partition identity Pakistan attempted to create is apparent within the Objectives Resolution of 1949. Although it proclaimed tolerance for all religions, Pakistan was created specifically for Muslims.

The idea of religious liberty was the building block for a nation that eventually fashioned an identity on the basis of Islam. This concept, which can be given the label of ‘political Islam’, is apparent in the constitutions that followed the objectives resolution, which declared Pakistan to be an Islamic republic which has tiny minorities of Hindus: 1,414,527, Christians: 1,270,051, Ahmedis: 125,681, Baha’is: 33,734, Sikhs: 6,146, Parsis: 4,020, Buddhists: 1,492, others: 66,898, Human Faith members only 7

The final constitution of 1973 finally opened the door to discrimination against religious minorities. The inclusion of the phrase ‘subject to law’ in this constitution held that minorities can only freely profess their faith as long as this does not cause lawlessness among the majority population. This phrase further developed the notion that religious freedom is not in fact fully present within Pakistan. The rights and practices of the majority Sunni Muslim population hold the most merit, not being subject to law. The subsequent 1974 constitution went on to define what being a member of the Muslim majority entails. Under this definition a small, minority sect of Muslims (the Ahmadiyya) were labeled as heretics and consequently under Ordinance XX public practice of their faith became a crime. Not only does this go against the Pakistani Constitution, which protects the right of individuals to profess, practice and propagate religion and the right of religious groups to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions, but as well as international human rights law standards of freedom of religion. In a case for Ahmadiyya rights taken to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the majority opinion held that Ahmadis are not Muslims because their beliefs and theological doctrines are largely at dissent with the beliefs of the majority of Muslims.

Their decision and approach is so irreparably defective that it contradicts the whole concept of religious freedom. There is a clear conflict present between the constitutional liberty Pakistan professes and its history of anti-Ahmadiyya antagonism. International mandates establish that Ahmadi Muslims have the right to profess and practice how they wish irrespective of whether another sect of Islam agrees with their theology. Moreover, the Pakistan Constitution can be interpreted to adapt to this international mandate.

The most common tool of persecution utilized against religious minorities is the charge of blasphemy. These laws ignore the question of intent and can carry a death sentence for the blasphemer. Added to penal code during Zia al-Haq’s military regime, they clash against the importance of religious liberty emphasized by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. As the product of a military dictator who adopted theocratic rhetoric for undoubtedly self-serving purpose, these laws further restrict religious freedom than what it should be under the constitutional and international guidelines. The implementation of such laws has created an environment that allows them to be utilized to settle personal disputes. They also show how unintended yet socially pertinent, and meaningful speech can easily be victimized. For example, in the case of Salamat Masih the High Court alluded to the fact that a personal vendetta could have motivated the charges against the 14-year-old Christian boy. The mere accusation of blasphemy against Masih was enough to promote tension and violence between the minority Christian population and the majority Muslim population. The High Court judge who acquitted Masih was shot dead for overturning the death sentence. These blasphemy laws are used politically and applied disproportionately to non-Muslims, specifically Christians and the Ahmadiyya. Introducing a legal definition of what it means to be a Muslim and then introducing laws that criminalize any insult to Islam has only served to strengthen extremism and foster violence. Constitutionally it can be claimed that religious liberty exists within Pakistan, but in reality this is not the case. Pakistan clearly has a state religion and fails to protect the freedom of religious minorities.

Although India does not have an official state religion such as Pakistan, which declares the religion of the majority to be the official, it can be argued that unofficially it is Hinduism. For example, in 1995 the Supreme Court endorsed the idea that Hinduism is not just one of the religions on the subcontinent but rather possesses a privileged, dominant position in the Indian way of life and consequently opened the door for Hindu national politics (Mahmud, 771). This notion is furthered when Hindu nationals such as Narendra Modi are democratically elected as the leader of the country. Using the platform of Hindutva, which promotes the idea that other regions are inauthentic to the real India, the Hindu way of life, is endorsed. Whether Hinduism is the official state religion or not can be argued however the idea that India is a secular nation is known. Its constitution stands as the bedrock of secularism while the accomadationist approach and the lack of wall between church and state allow secularism to succeed. This secularism comes under threat however due to the anti-conversion laws present.

These laws, that aim to protect people from being forced to change their beliefs, can be seen as a clear obstruction to religious freedom. The Gujarat Freedom of Religion bill, for example, says a person who wants to convert to another religion must first get permission from the district magistrate to do so. Not only does this place illogical limitation on an individual’s right to convert to another religion, but it also hinders their right to propagate their own religion. The magistrates could also, if under pressure from hardline Hindu groups prohibit any or all conversions from Hinduism. These laws also imply that inherently there is a state religion. For instance, as a result of the enactment of these laws, the state is required to track conversions, primarily conversions from Hinduism to minority religion (Jenkins 118). If Hinduism did not hold a privileged position then conversions from all faiths to another would be tracked. This however is not the case because they are laden in favor of the Hindu majority. It also worth noting that similar to Pakistan, these laws contradict rights that are protected by the constitution which states that “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion” (Mahmood 758).

Although I have not done research on this topic, I can’t help but wonder if the regions that implement anti-conversion laws are the same regions where Hindutva is in power. If this is the case, it can be argued that these laws only serve a political purpose as opposed to religious or legal. They restrict religious freedom in a country whose constitution is the bedrock for secularism. India clearly has an unofficial state religion, which will eventually become official with Hindu national politics, and fails to protect the religious liberty of its citizens. For the third time, America’s religious-freedom envoys, who travel to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and China, was A denied entry to India. A delegation from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was supposed to leave for India on March 4th but no visas were forthcoming. “I was disappointed because when I visited India it was a democracy.

The United States is a prime example of why a state cannot have an official or unofficial religion if it wants to protect religious freedom. From the start, America was not a country of a singular faith but rather one of many varying set of beliefs. The opening 16 words of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights sum up the relationship the founding fathers intended to be present between religion and politics. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The first clause, the establishment clause is why there is no official state religion while the second, free exercise clause, allows one to profess their faith. Taken together, these two clauses protect religious liberty by protecting religions and religious beliefs from governmental interference. They guarantee that religious belief or non-belief should remain voluntary, free from government coercion. Under this banner, making exceptions to the law for people of faith has become a norm within the American definition of religious tolerance. While it can be argued that America is a Christian nation, this argument possesses no merit. The Constitution itself contains no mention of Christianity and refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment. It even outwardly bans “religious tests” for public office, thus assuring non-Christians the right to hold office. In its entirety, the constitution is a secular document. This argument fails again because Supreme Court decisions have held over and over for religious freedom.

In 1972 in Wisconsin v. Yoder it set precedent for the state to have a compelling interest before it could constitutionally oblige a religious community to obey a state law that conflicted its beliefs. While this decision can be seen to reflect a concern about the state’s power to influence its citizens, it can also simply be the Court looking to protect a religious community. Not only did this decision create a balancing test that weighed a state’s interest against an individual’s/communities right to freely exercise their religion, but it also set the bar for following decisions that upheld religious liberty. The court builds the wall up even higher when there is a risk of the establishment clause being violated. The only way religious liberty of all faiths can be protected if one religion is not blatantly established, advanced, or favored. To keep this from happening the court ruled to remove religion from the public sphere. For example, in Lee v. Weisman the majority opinion held that use of peer pressure to coerce students into participating in a graduation prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. This decision stressed the importance of individual freedom of conscience. Religious liberty is protected to the extent that it can’t even be influenced publicly.

It is evident based on the constitution and various landmark Supreme Court decisions that the United States successfully protects religious freedoms/liberties only because it does not have an official state religion but Human Faith.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world, dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. USCIRF reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the Congressional leadership of both political parties.

Written by Ajmal Mehdi


Written by humanfealty/human Faith

June 24, 2017 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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