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What Happened to Freedom of Religion?
The word ‘freedom’ is not the largest of words; in fact, it only consists of seven letters, of which two are the letter ‘e’. However, if we look deeper into the definition of this word rather than my rapid evaluation, we can conclude that it means ‘A state in which somebody is able to act and live as he or she chooses, without being subject to any restrictions.’ This definition led me to think about current issues facing our world today in the twenty first century, which focus on freedom of religion, or dare I say the lack of it.
Firstly, let us ask ourselves a question, what is religion? Religion is ‘an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine’  (commonly known to most people as believing in God).
As the data currently stands, there are over 10,000 subdivided religions in the world today, of which there are 19 which are major world religions, ranked by the size. These include, Christianity, Islam, Nonreligious, Hinduism, Chinese traditional religion, Buddhism, primal-indigenous, African traditional and Diasporic, Sikhism and Juche if we were to narrow it to the top ten.
Freedom of religion is currently supported by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This article states that ‘The Australian legal system purports to treat Australia’s many different religious communities equally.’ If this law is to remain true, then people should be free to practice their beliefs without fear of discrimination. However, in today’s society, freedom of religion is far from being the norm. This article will explore how different incidents have led to this article’s failure to provide security for religious believers in Australia.
The Catholic Church is never far-off from a scandal; in 2009 the Vatican recommended that the Melbourne Catholic Church should implement testing to ensure that all future priests were not homosexual. The particulars of this assessment were not given out, however, to add to the uproar the Vatican committee issued a statement that homosexuality is ‘a type of deviation’. A fundamental part of Christianity is that ‘God is love’ and furthermore, in John 1 4:7-12 the Bible also states that ‘if we love one another, God lives in us’. Many gay rights spokespeople would argue that discrimination and the taking away the freedom of religion of a homosexuals is wrong and unacceptable for a modern society.
Furthermore, the Jewish community has also suffered from a lack of religious freedom. This year, the Jewish community spent an average of $431,700 on the tightening of security for schools to ensure that religiously motivated attacks could be inhibited at all costs. For example, The King David School of Melbourne spent $450,000 on improving CCTV systems, window protection as well as applying access control management to their school campuses. The measures which the community have gone to, highlight the fear which minorities feel for their safety and the extent of how they cannot practice their religion in peace.
Islam has been the centre of worldwide consideration during this past decade and still continues to be a major source of debate. Recently, the Liberal Senator of South Australia, Cory Bernadi has called Australia to follow suit and ban the Burqua after France’s lower house voted to ban the face veil in all public areas. This ban also exists in other European countries including some areas of Italy. Senator Bernadi described the Burqua as ‘the most public symbol of fundamentalist Islam’ and continued by stating that Islam treated women as ‘second class citizens.’ However, Islam actually teaches that ‘It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them. Where will the line be drawn, if the Burqua is banned, will other religious uniform be discriminated as well, what next - the Jewish Kippah (skullcap)?
In January 2010 a Sikh Temple in Lynbrook, situated in an eastern Melbourne suburb was set on fire, and the previous week another temple in Craigieburn was vandalised with eggs and stones. The Sikh community was deeply affected and called for an increase in security around temples of worship due to the increased risks.
In the twenty first century, we have a right to vote, choose what we want to buy, eat, where we want to live, and work. However, our religious schools are worried about their security, our temples vandalised, religious attire banned, and a person’s sexuality is the basis for being discriminated against teaching God’s word. It is essential that a so called democratic country teaches its growing population to respect the rich and vibrant fusion of religions in Australia, so that religious freedom no longer becomes a matter for easy bullying.
I am not a religious doctor, analyst or anyone for that matter who has a lot of experience. In fact, I am just a schoolgirl. However, you do not need a masters (not that one does not help) to tell when freedom of religion is becoming increasingly under risk of being lost. In our society it is up to the current generation to show the next generation (yes, youngsters like me) how to live in religious harmony and to accept all faiths equally. It is up to us to learn from the past, improve the present and lay down the best foundations for the future. Anyways, I have to go and do my homework now...
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