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Religious Freedom – Social Justice Challenge


I joined The Social Justice Challenge – and I am really excited about this. Not only will it give me a chance to read more about issues impacting the world, but it will give me an opportunity and incentive to take action on these issues. The first monthly theme is Religious Freedom. Amy writes:

To start things off on this month focusing on Religious Freedom, I thought it would help if we confronted our feelings about the subject. Below you’ll find a few questions that you should feel free to answer either on your own blog (and leave a link in the Mister Linky) or in comments. We have so much learning that we can do just from each other.

  • What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of religious freedom?
  • What knowledge do you have of present threats to religious freedom in our world today?
  • Have you chosen a book or resource to read for this month?
  • Why does religious freedom matter to you?

The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think of religious freedom is the LACK of freedom for some people. I envision those people who have been arrested and imprisoned simply because they express their religious or spiritual beliefs; I envision people being persecuted because they believe something that someone else (usually the majority in their particular culture or society) don’t believe. Throughout the centuries individuals have been forced to either conform to the religious or spiritual beliefs of the majority, or suffer persecution, arrest or even death. Even here in the United States, a country which celebrates its freedoms, there is persecution against people because of their religion or lack of it – we may not imprison people, but sometimes the ridicule or attempt to pass laws to force religiously motivated morality on others can be almost worse because it is a more subtle form of persecution.

My knowledge in this area is not as good as it could be…so I am looking forward to learning more. But, it is clear to me that in OUR country, Muslims are often viewed as evil or radical because of the terrorist fear (sparked largely by 9-11). What little I know about the Muslim religion doesn’t support this view. To me it is a clear case of the extremists of a religion being used as the measuring stick for the religion itself. On the flip side, I know that there are many Christians living in Muslim nations who are being persecuted, imprisoned and killed on a regular basis.

I am staying open-minded about my reading on this topic…but I do have a novel which I think deals with the idea of religious freedom (although it is during the Renaissance). I think it would give some good historical content to the issue of religious freedoms today. The book is Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant and part of the blurb on the back cover reads: “[…] Sacred Hearts is a novel about power, creativity, passion – both secular and spiritual – and the indomitable spirit of women in an age when religious, political, and social forces were all stacked against them.”

The book centers around a young woman forced into a convent while outside the convent walls the forces of the Counter-Reformation push for ever more repressive changes. I am always interested in women’s issues…and this novel seems like it will meld women’s issues with the issue of religious freedom.

Whether one is “religious” or not,  religious freedom matters. To be able to freely express one’s spiritual or religious beliefs (or their lack of a belief) is a right I think EVERYONE should have. This is a big issue I think today…especially when we watch our freedoms being whittled away by the “moral police” who want to impose their beliefs on everyone.


  1. Verbatim Verbatim
    January 3, 2010    

    Ooh, I’m glad to see you’re participating in this one. I’m doing it too, although I haven’t officially signed up. I’m reading Anil’s Ghost for this month, and I’ve never read The English Patient (or seen the movie) so this will be my first exposure to Michael Ondaatje.

    I think a more tangled issue concerning religious freedom that we might consider is where we draw the line when religious customs overlap with cultural tradition. Many western European countries are grappling with that issue right now — will women be allowed to wear burqas in driver’s license photos? How many, if any, buildings with minarets will be permitted? If boundaries are imposed, does that constitute religious persecution or just maintenance of cultural identity? I don’t think they’re easy questions to answer, but they are ones that we need to ask ourselves.

  2. January 3, 2010    

    I think the great thing about this challenge is that we can all take the time to learn more about areas that we KNOW are important, but haven’t gotten around to.

    I’m thankful that we do have the freedoms that we do, but the work is not done until everyone in the world is free to worship as they see fit.

  3. January 6, 2010    

    Great post! I agree that even in the U.S. there are subtle forms of religious control. And like you, I’ve been saddened by the prejudice against Muslims sparked by the 9/11 tragedy.

    Sacred Hearts sounds like a good novel — I look forward to hearing more.

  4. January 27, 2010    

    Verbatim: I’ve not read anything by Michael Ondaatje yet so I’ll be interested in your thought on the book. You bring up a really great issue re: religious freedoms and culture…many cultures overlap strongly with religious tradition (and I think even in western culture there is some of this, although maybe not as obvious).

    Ronnica: well said – I agree. I love this challenge in that I think it will help us all to pen our eyes and minds to areas we might have ignored.

    Stephanie: I’ve posted my review of Sacred Hearts – it was a good book for this challenge.

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