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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Religious Freedom and Tolerance

At Deseret News, I ran into Religious freedom as a core human right: A three-sides, global debate. Part 1 of 2. Part 2 will talk about the Obama administration in the context of religious freedom.

The tolerance of religious beliefs is foundational to our country. Beginning from the time of the Revolution when men and women of all faiths joined together to fight a common enemy, religious tolerance has been a large part of the United States of America.  It's part of who we are. It's a part of us we want to keep and to share in lands that don't give religious freedom. It's one of the things I love best about living in America: knowing people of varying beliefs who are yet wonderful and loving friends and neighbors who respect my religion and beliefs just as I respect theirs. How do we teach this? We begin with government and leaders who uphold these laws.
"We have found that an increase in government restrictions on religion coincides with a spike in religious persecution and violence," said Brian Grim at the Pew Research Center (see graphic). Impunity seeps into the social fabric, experts say.
I recently watched a documentary about Ethiopian history. The Ethiopians are largely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian or Muslim. The two groups were brought together by their king of the time, who was Christian, against a common enemy, the Portuguese Jesuits, centuries ago when all Africa was being claimed for European monarchies. To this day the two factions live together in peace. Despite all the religious turmoil and genocide that surround their country.

Leaders can claim large responsibility for the peace and tolerance in a region. In hosts of Islamic countries, members of other faiths are persecuted or killed. Even differing factions war upon each other. This violence is often incited by religious leaders (radical imams) and political leaders (Ahmadinejad, for example).

The article also talks about the shaky foundation behind the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights regarding religion.
 In fact, the religion clause of human rights declaration is quite challenging for many authoritarian and Islamic governments. Apostasy from Islam and blasphemy against it are widely seen as capital crimes, and non-Muslims have historically faced discrimination (dhimmi status) in exchange for a modicum of tolerance. Authoritarian governments, meanwhile, view uncontrolled religious passions as threats to public order.It was thus no surprise that the eight abstentions from the 1948 declaration vote were seven Soviet bloc countries — and Saudi Arabia. The tension within Islam escalated in 1990, when the 45 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Cairo signed an alternative Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. The Cairo declaration offers neither religious freedom nor any of the other vital rights outlined in 1948. It has been roundly criticized, but it signals the height of the hurdles.
Time will tell regarding the resolution of these issues, but a lack of tolerance has already cost many human lives. Living together in peace presupposes that all parties are willing to be tolerant of each other (also Ron Paul's fatal flaw). We already know that not all religions or peoples are tolerant.  From what I understand of Islam, the people who are literate and read the Koran know that the radical imams who preach violence on the basis of the Koran are wrong.  Increasing literacy - particularly for girls and women, who teach the future generations - will increase tolerance. The work Greg Mortenson is doing just this. Greg is the author of "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, in Pakistan and Afghanistan," and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace.

*Monday. Part 2 about Obama's work undermining religious freedom is available here.

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