Secularization or Religious Intolerance?

In 2009 in Switzerland more than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 provinces voted in favor of imposing a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques. In 2011, France introduced a law against covering one’s face in public. Muslim women in full-face veils, or niqab, were banned from any public activity including walking down the street, taking a bus, going to the shops or collecting their children from school.  That same year, another law that banned saying prayers in the street, a practice by French Muslims unable to find space in mosques, came into effect in Paris.

In a recent ruling, a Cologne’s (Germany) District Court criminalized the religious circumcision of minors, even with the consent of parents.  In Hof, a small German town near the Czeck border, four German citizens filed criminal complaints with the local prosecutor against a local Rabbi alleging the crime of performing ritual circumcisions. In New York, the City’s Board of Health voted earlier this month to require parents to sign a consent form before having their child undergo an Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual.

Those favoring the regulation of circumcisions cite as their main reason the health risks to the children of certain circumcision rituals. The principal reason put forth for banning the construction of minarets was to eliminate conflict. Proponents of the law prohibiting the covering of the face saw the law as a way to prevent the oppression of women in Islamic communities.

Is there a trend of governments trying to eliminate religion and impose secularism as the new religion?

Are governments being insensitive to religious beliefs, or are governments only looking out for the wellbeing of their citizens?

Do these laws violate the right of individuals to practice their religion?

6 thoughts on “Secularization or Religious Intolerance?

  • September 21, 2012 at 8:37 am

    In my opinion we should be aware that religion conflicts never comes from a pure religion problem but from a mixture of cultural clash along with economical and political interests.
    But what puts religion in the front line is its tremendous power to manage people´s most inner feelings. It has always been like that.
    Should we redirect this religious problems through laws? Of course, without any complex.
    Why? Because the law in a country establishes the game rules one must follow to live in the community. The minimum rules to follow to be socially accepted.
    It is not a question of who is right or wrong, it is not a question of who is better, Jesus or Mahoma. That belongs to personal beliefs territory.
    Laws in Saudi Arabia doesn´t allow a woman to dress as they do in occident or even drive a car. That should be respected in their country where most people support these ideas.
    But what is ok for Saudi Arabia need not to be accepted in France or Spain which are countries formed for people with a very different way of thinking.
    So, yes, I believe we should respect communities and habits, provided they are not degrading to the person, in their countries not in ours. And laws establish the rules of the game and provide the clarity needed to be able to live in social harmony.

    Congratulations for the blog Mrs Rengel.

    • September 22, 2012 at 8:40 am

      Dear Roger,

      I agree with you in your assessment that religious conflicts are often related to economic and political interests. I also agree that sovereignty allows each Nation to ennact laws to serve their own citizens. However, it is clear that the laws of Germany, the United States, and Switzerland, allow for the freedom of religion, which includes the right to practice one’s religion. The question remains: are these countries violating the rights of their people by forbidding the construction of minarets, the covering of the face, and limiting circumcision rituals? Are these countries secularizing their laws to the extent that they infringe on religious freedom?

      I appreciate your contribution on the blog 🙂

      • September 25, 2012 at 5:06 pm

        It is true, religion does have tremendous power over people’s inner feelings – which makes it harder to understand, then why do people criticize such a sensitive matter? Unfortunately, people have been behaving recklessly towards this matter despite their awareness of the power it holds in instigating political conflicts and controversy. Unfortunately today, an increasing number of countries keep discriminating towards Arabs as a whole, which has spewed hatred and intolerance amongst people. The media is feeding the brains of people with loathsome remarks towards Muslims, immensely criticizing the religion in the most potent way they can. The ridiculous cartoon drawings in Denmark, the disrespectful Quran burning in Florida, the discriminatory laws regulated in Europe, the distasteful “Innocence of Muslims” video in America… it seems to me there has been a domino effect for other countries to do so and all these events have beset Islam and convey hateful messages towards the practice of this religion via different means. Yet, the consequences of each event have been the same: the international outrage of Muslims.

        Yes, I think governments are being insensitive to religious beliefs. Laws are imposed by a country to represent a form of security for one’s interest, to protect its people… are the governments’ today protecting people from Muslims? By breaking a law, sanctions are imposed – is it fair for Muslim women to be penalized simply for walking down the streets of France? Whether or not to cover her face is a matter of personal belief. Laws are meant to distinguish between the good and the evil, and not the Muslim and the Christian. The increasingly predominant perception that Muslims represent a danger or threat to Western societies has influenced secularism, and Secularism destroys the sanctity of faith and moral values. The West’s view that Muslims cannot assimilate within democratic systems or adapt to westernized countries has become a growing issue Muslims have encountered, especially for those living in the west. Religious discrimination is a form of racism – it is equivalent to discriminating between the black and the white; It is part of who you are. There is a set of ideal morals and ethics each person is expected to have and follow in a society, but there should not be social expectations imposed on religious practices.

        It seems to me that today, people fail to see the true purpose of religion: it is not a matter of debate or a matter of who is right or wrong, there is not one right answer – and it shouldn’t matter, because that is not why it is there. It is there to guide those who have faith and to bring inner-peace to those who seek god but unfortunately its purpose has been obliterated and instead people are at war because of religion and governments continue to spew negativity towards Islam causing worldwide controversy.

        Speaking of… here’s a relevant article i’d like to share: American Freedom Defense Initiative, how would a civilized man defeat jihad? I hope people who see the ad can see this perspective in order not to accept the statement unconditionally..

        My question in this case remains… are we really equating Israel with the civilized?

        • September 26, 2012 at 8:35 pm

          Mariam and Neil,
          It seems to me that you both take issue with the government being too involved trying to legalize matters that should be left to individuals’ own beliefs. You Mariam indicate that governments around the world seem to be demonizing anything Muslim, including their religion, and that is very unfair. Neil, you complain that the current US administration is attempting to force the Church to provide as part of their health insurance plans the type of medical treatment/advice that they are strongly opposed to for religious reasons. The “establishment clause” of the first amendment to the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Government has to justify any type of public policy it implements that affects religious beliefs on reasons that are objectively to protect the public. However, the deciders on the legality of governmental actions, at least in the US, are the courts; and the courts are often swayed by public opinion. I am afraid that to change public opinion is a very difficult enterprise, but I urge you to continue thinking critically about what goes on around you and never be afraid to speak up against the ideas or policies that you think are wrong or unjust regardless of who espouses them.

  • September 25, 2012 at 12:02 am

    It does seem to me that some governments are apparently being increasingly anti-religious. However, I believe that the motives are different. In some Europeans countries there has been a huge increase of the number of Islamic immirgrants in the past twenty years. Many Europeans are disturbed by this trend. It appears to them that they are being overwhelmed by immigrants who do not respect their customs and culture. Thus some European nations are taking measures to show that they will not be dominated by Islam. We see this with the new law for minarets in Switzerland, the laws about veils in France, and the movement in Holland to insure that new immigrants are not hostile to the values of Dutch people.

    I am not sure the motives for these new laws attempting to restrict circumcision. Circumcision has been going on for thousands of years. Surely there are safegaurds in place to prevent infections and other negative health consequences of the practice. I am not sure how circumcision is threatening to anyone. Matter of fact – at least in the US – circumcision was for years embraced as the healthier option by many in the medical community. I am not sure why their appears to be an increased hostility to this practice, but it is seems to be a disturbing trend. If proper safeguards for safety are taken place by the Rabbis and other practicioners of circumcision, how is it a problem for anyone?

    In the US there is currently a debate about what the government can make religious based businesses do. Obama´s healthcare plan wants to insure that birth control is provided under the health care plans of everyone – and that this will not be an option. The Catholic Church says this is a violation of their religious beliefs. The Church says that the government cannot force them to provide to employees that which is against their religion. I think that the Church is right in this regard. If the government can tell the Church what it must do in this regard, then this is the start of governent encroachment on churches and religious liberties in general. Religion has long played an important dynamic in the fabric of America; from the Purtitanism of the Pilgrims to the Quakers, from Lutherans to Pentocostals – religion and a person´s right to practice whatever faith one chooses has long been a major “theme” of the US. If this is eroded then I fear that the Republic in general will be weakened. It is like a rot on one of the pillars of a free society. If “Obamacare” is allowed to force the Church to provide birth control, then what is next? Will the Church be forced later to provide abortions for employees who want them? Will Catholic chaplains in the military be forced to conduct gay marriages? The first amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” It appears to me that “Obamacare” is violating the free exercise of religion. How can the government tell a church to purchase what is in violation of their beliefs? It seems to me that the government in this issue is saying that churches may be allowed to exist, but they must succumb to the “religion” (or anti-religion) of secular humanism. It may be that the people who want to implement “Obamacare” have good intentions, but the ultimate good will not be achieved if religious liberties are eroded. It will mark the advent of the decay of the Constitution and thus the freedom of people in general.

  • November 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I don’t know that my reply will contribute as an answer to the question of whether governments are violating the rights of their citizens. It may, however, provoke more questions and for some a strange feeling in their gut…
    I read this post a couple of weeks ago as I was working through a study of the Tanakh (Old Testament for Christians) in comparison to ancient near eastern religions and rituals. I found it curious that “secular law” permits freedom for “religious laws.” Abrahamic religions hold at their core laws that govern daily life. So for me, it is understandable and almost expected that laws that hold very different values in some (if not most) instances will clash.
    Christianity’s influence in the political sphere began with Constantine in the 4th century CE. Since then Christianity has had a significant influence in our legal systems. However, prior to that it seems to me that Christianity (and Judaism) belonged in a theocratic framework and not in a democratic one. In the case of Christianity, its influence (both positive and negative) over these systems allowed it to coexist without major clashes. As Christianity looses its influence and power it is understandable that its rights will also be replaced.
    I say this with great caution – Early Christianity and Judaism held God as the land owner and its people as the tenants. The law of the land was Gods to give and not peoples to vote over. Adaptation and compromise exist but only by taking away from its original intent.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *