Fundamental Rights: Freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion

Religious policymaking by the few isn’t fair for the rest of us

candlelit prayer
We need to value freedom and reject imposition. Rodolfo Clix / Pexels

By: Cristina Liao, SFU Student
Edited by: Luke Faulks

The overturning of Roe v. Wade is a seismic shift. People around the world have protested this decision as an encroachment against bodily autonomy. It’s a decision that only makes sense if viewed through a Chrisitan lens. The end of Roe is a warning to western democracies: freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion.

The decision is wrong because it takes the religious beliefs of just six people and applies them to a country of over 325 million people. The Court, a political body that’s 78% Catholic, should have no right to impose its dogma on a country that’s just 21% Catholic.

The same religious mismatch applies to Congress. Pew Research Centre found that the legislature has “always been overwhelmingly Christian” while only about 20–32% of Americans feel it is important for a president to have “strong religious belief.” A religious Congress that passes its laws onto a population is unfair to whose who don’t practise Christianity.

Just as it’s important to have freedom from religion, it is also important to have the freedom to practise one’s religion that differs from a majority. Now that Roe v. Wade has officially been overturned, some Americans are having trouble seeing the space for their beliefs in the Court’s ruling. Everyone has the right to practice any religion. However, being Christian, Catholic, Muslim, or of any other religious persuasion does not in any way excuse discriminatory policymaking.

Politicians cannot hide behind the words “Christian values” to excuse their actions. In part because it’s deeply undemocratic, and in part, because those same politicians would rebel against different faiths legislating according to their own beliefs. The imposition of Islamic Sharia in western countries is generally a canard, but has generated pushback against immigrants from Muslim-majority countries.

Religious policymaking isn’t just happening in the US. In 2018, Québec legislator François Legault articulated a desire to prevent provincial employees from wearing religious symbols. Where this supposedly secular law comes undone is in Legault’s insistence that the cross transcends religiosity, and therefore cannot be banned alongside the religious items of other faiths. Flashing forward to 2021, and Québec’s top court chose to uphold most of the law. It’s another example of a religious few, in this case, Catholics, imposing religious order on the whole of a citizenry.

As the ACLU states, “The First Amendment to the US Constitution says that everyone in the United States has the right to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all.” Politicians can be Christian, even openly Christian. Regardless of their faith, they should not be creating laws based on a religion that a large proportion of the population they’re influencing do not practice.

In a free and democratic society, citizens should be free to practise any religion of their choosing. However, it’s important that citizens have freedom from religious demagoguery. We need the freedom to marry the people we want to in flagrant violation of religious teaching. We need the freedom to criticise religious projects when they abuse the rights of others. We need freedom from religion.