December 1, 2014

When Their Religion Restricts Our Rights

Logo of the United States Commission on Intern...
Logo of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm not a Republican, a libertarian, or a fiscal conservative. I have no issue with progressive taxes (e.g., capital gains, income, or property), although I do despise extremely regressive taxes such as Mississippi's sales tax on groceries. I'm not inclined to believe that all economic problems can be solved with free market capitalism, and I recognize that government regulations are often necessary. But when it comes to restrictions on individual liberties, I believe that the bar should be high for those seeking to implement the restrictions. Restrictions to our personal freedom, when necessary, should at least be evidence-based.

Many of us in the United States live in areas where we are prohibited from purchasing alcohol at certain times of day, on certain days of the week, or in certain locations. Maintaining these so-called "blue laws" is detrimental to our economy. Why do we allow such restrictions on our freedom? We seem to do so primarily due to the political influence of our Christian neighbors. We allow them to restrict our rights for what often amount to religious reasons.

Most of us are still prohibited from buying, growing, or using marijuana. Why? Are these prohibitions based on solid science about the effects of marijuana or obsolete business decisions (e.g., not wanting hemp to provide a cheap alternative to paper) and fear-mongering? Why do we continue to elect religious officials who will restrict our freedom for questionable reasons?

I recognize that many readers will find these examples rather trivial, and that is understandable. How about the manner in which conservative Christians have interfered with the right of same sex couples to marry or the reproductive freedom of women? How about the manner in which conservative Christians have impeded medical research with stem cells, work that could benefit us all? And what about one of the most important rights of all - the right to die with dignity? Why are we empowering others to take this decision away from us on religious grounds? Why aren't we standing up for the right to physician-assisted suicide? Can we be so foolish as to imagine that nobody we love might ever want to avail themselves of such an option?

Perhaps we have wasted so much outrage on imaginary threats to our rights (e.g., Obama is coming to take our guns) or various offenses that have nothing to do with our rights (e.g., "ShirtGate") that we can no longer muster the energy to do anything when our freedom is restricted for no good reason. That would be a sad state of affairs.

I understand that there will be times when it is necessary for a government to place limitations on the freedom of individual citizens. All I'm suggesting is that those seeking to do so should have the burden of demonstrating that doing so is necessary. We should not tolerate a restriction of our freedom on the basis of someone else's religious beliefs. The bar should be higher.
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