Religious Freedom or Freedom From Religion

Religion has been the basis of law. Society’s moral guidelines have their origin in religion. How could one expect the very concept that gave birth to morality and withstood the test of thousands of years to now be abandoned for the sake of an experimental, relativistic view which does not necessitate but rather demands the eradication of any protection that does not fit the mold of 21st century bias?


By Georgiana Constantin | April 27, 2015

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The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has sparked a national scandal as to whether or not such a law would be discriminatory to the homosexual community, which might be refused services on the grounds of religious beliefs.

The United States Constitution protects the freedom of religion through the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” And, since “no law, state or federal, forbids discrimination in a general sense” (i.e. employers, businesses and landlords), some have suggested that what this act actually does is protect against abusive enforcement of non-discrimination laws (such as forcing pro-life doctors to perform abortions).

The current dialogue actually began over two decades ago, with the signing of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This document states: “(a) IN GENERAL. – Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b

(b) EXCEPTION. – Government may burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person –

(1) furthers a compelling governmental interest; and

(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Following the example of this law, several states in the U.S., among which, most recently, Indiana, have passed their own, local versions of it.

Preventing the state from forcing people to betray their conscience by partaking in actions and/or events which are contrary to their beliefs can only be seen as a guarantor of freedom.

The question at hand is, how biased is the analysis of such a law going to be? Some argue that freedom of religion is not freedom to discriminate. This may remind one of a similar “vox populi” crying out, as in the Charlie Hebdo case, “freedom of speech is not freedom to offend.” The general consensus when the Charlie Hebdo event occurred was that freedom of speech was in fact freedom to offend. Yet, do not harsh, offensive messages ultimately lead to discrimination?

Western society’s general view of morality seems to be a relative concept, as changing and uncertain as the tide of emotions, which regularly sweeps through the collective consciousness of the masses. A Muslim owned company forcing its Christian employees to wear headscarves did not draw too much attention. Bakers refusing to make cakes, who refer to homosexuality as a sin, did draw attention, however. It drew the attention of those who considered it a laical sin to regard homosexuality as immoral. However the same people looked unforgivingly on the baker who refused provide his services for a gay couple’s wedding.

What if the cakes had depicted some of the Charlie Hebdo caricatures, which portrayed Mohammed or Jesus in an offensive manner? Would the ones who refused to bake anti-gay cakes refuse to bake anti-religious ones? Are such occurrences simply instigations to discriminate? Freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of expression, do they all exist merely in the eye of the beholder? Is freedom to be held hostage by whatever social trend is dominant at the moment? Or is it to be determined by law and common sense? How can one argue the case for freedom without engaging in its defense?

This concept of liberty, on which all modern democracies pride themselves, is a complex and often misunderstood idea.

Where does freedom begin and does it have limits? Can we use freedom to offend other people? If so, should we? What about using the concept of our personal freedom to limit the freedom of others? All of these are questions which must be asked and analyzed in depth.

From a legal perspective, it is clear that the RFRA laws are trying to protect the liberty an individual has to act according to his own conscience and beliefs. From a social perspective, the dialogue that has been sparked is one that must undoubtedly take place. Will some interpret the law in a different way and distract others’ interpretation from the norm’s initial purpose? Perhaps the real question should be: Is it ever possible to stop people from misinterpreting any law or principle? And, should such comprehension deviations stand in the way of the legislative process?

In the end, freedom is a carefully guarded and fragile state in which a person has a broad yet limited range of motion. The limit to this motion is the law governing the geographical area where the individual resides.

Religion has been the basis of law. Society’s moral guidelines have their origin in religion. How could one expect the very concept that gave birth to morality and withstood the test of thousands of years to now be abandoned for the sake of an experimental, relativistic view which does not necessitate but rather demands the eradication of any protection that does not fit the mold of 21st century bias?


Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied International, European and Romanian law at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest and received her Masters from the Nicolae Titulescu University in Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.