Depending on where you live, criticisms of religious beliefs could yield a range of consequences ranging from social scorn to outright execution. Are people living in the West free to criticize religion in general, and all religions with equal alacrity? Regrettably, the answer to both questions is a resounding no. Polite society dictates certain rules of conduct, one of which is to avoid criticizing someone's religious views in too "frontal" a manner. Furthermore, whereas the intelligentsia regards some religions as perfectly fair game for criticism, mockery, and scorn, one particular religion is granted much greater protection within the public arena. I'll give you a hint: It's not the Amish.
There is nothing in the American Constitution that protects religious folks from being offended. The threat of "hurt feelings" and the quest for "community cohesion" are means to ensure that liberal people (especially among the intelligentsia) tow the line of self-censorship. It would not be melodramatic to state that one of the first steps of totalitarianism is when intellectuals begin to engage in self-censorship. Having been an academic for close to two decades, I know of numerous scholars in the United States and Canada that have repeatedly refrained from sharing their views on religion in general, and a specific religion in particular, lest they fear the dire consequences of doing so (ranging from losing their jobs, being ostracized by friends, to outright bodily harm). Any freedom-loving individual living in the West should be deeply concerned about this reality. Freedom of speech (especially the criticism of religious dogma) should be a non-negotiable right whose protection is valued above all other rights.
I repeatedly read Facebook posts on my wall wherein individuals are perfectly willing to acerbically criticize some religions, but bend over backwards to protect one "untouchable" religion. This is the height of cowardice and hypocrisy. Rick Santorum is repeatedly chastised for his religiously rooted views on abortion (rightly so in my opinion). Mitt Romney is mocked for some of the doctrines of his Mormon faith (e.g., the posthumous baptism of dead Jews). However, no one dares to proclaim that Sharia Law is antithetical to the most fundamental tenets of the American constitution. Apparently only redneck tea party members would believe that Sharia Law is dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth. I should know. I grew up in the Middle East. It is impossible to imagine anything more antithetical to the Equal Protection Clause than many of the foundational precepts of Sharia Law. If you are rightly put off by the Jewish prayer in which males thank God for not having made them a woman (this does not make you anti-semitic by the way) then you should have no difficulty finding Sharia Law contrary to our liberal democratic values (and it does not make you "Islamophobic"). Most contemporary people would have little hesitation to reject religious beliefs that call for human sacrifices. Similarly, few people today would accept the ordeal by water associated with witch-hunts. Yet some religious doctrines that we face today are astonishingly more malignant than the latter antiquated practices, and yet we are supposed to bow in deference and respect to grotesque religious views lest we be accused of being toothless hillbillies.
All individuals have the right to practice their religion in the privacy of their homes, and in the sanctity of their hearts. However, once one enters the public sphere, religious beliefs are not protected from scrutiny, debate, criticism, and ridicule. Either all religions should be protected from any criticism (welcome to the Dark Ages) or else ALL religions are equally open to full criticism.
Finally, those who might be in the Washington, DC area tomorrow may wish to attend the large Reason Rally.
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