From Religious Freedoms to “Happy Special Day!”

Over the past few years, religious freedom has been invoked for different reasons, including denial of services, even when mandated by law.  On the opposite spectrum, we have a new push towards Atheism where everything with a religious connotation is being targeted. I believe these movements are actually stemming from the same place: intolerance.

Religious freedom is precious.  It means that people in the US have the right to practice their faith, without fear of persecution, so long as their faith does not conflict with the law (e.g. human sacrifices).  We also sanction the sanctity of the sacraments, even considering a confession as privileged as a lawyer's conversation with its client.  People can also rescind their faith with no repercussions from government.   But that is where I feel the religious freedom should end.  I do not view it as a collective right, but as an individual freedom.  My religious freedom ends at the foot of my neighbor.  I have the right to believe in what I choose to believe as much as the next man.  His belief is as true to him as mine are to me.

I do not believe they should be invoked to deny another person benefits or service just because their mindset is different from mine.  For example, contraception has come up a lot in the media, where some organizations of a religious nature claim that providing these drugs goes against their belief.  I disagree.  If I employ an Atheist, am I to decide that my beliefs supersede his or hers?  My religious freedom is to choose to follow my faith, and to take or not take a contraceptive drug.  It does not give me the right to think for the other person.  My religious freedom is a shield, not a weapon.

The flip side is also true.  As the Christmas season approaches, we are hearing more stories of individuals being offended by Christmas trees, would prefer to call them Holiday trees instead.  That is not tolerant.  Saying, "Hey, that's different from what I believe in, so I want it taken down" is not tolerant.  I am not Jewish, but I am not offended when told "Happy Hanukkah."  The person speaking to me is not wishing me harm.  They are sharing in their own celebration.

I sometimes worry about the trend to annihilate all signs of differences in society. Tolerance is not asking everyone to hide their faith or belief because it may be offensive to others, but allowing everone to practice their belief and faith, to wear a cross, turban, kippah, or nothing, and everyone being fine with it.  To say, "I believe in science, and you believe in God, and we may not agree on everything", is the tolerant approach.  To say "I believe in science, and seeing the manifestation of your faith is offensive to me" is not tolerant.

I remember a time when people would just send out cards from their faith to the people they knew.  I sent out a few Merry Christmas cards myself, but now we are moving to a simple "Happy Holiday."  So what is lost there?  Well, if you're a Christian, then Christmas is a pretty big deal.  To tell someone you are wishing them a Merry Christmas is a very personal thing.  It means "hey, this is what I believe in, and I wish you good blessings from God.  If you don't believe in God, that's cool, but I do, and this is how I show I care."  To send out "happy holidays" means nothing more than that.  And while we're on the subject, how long until we go from holiday to "special day".  After all, the root of holiday is "holy day". In the end, the two movements are stemming from intolerance that someone may believe in something that you do not, up to the point that you cannot bear to act, see, or listen to anything that goes against your own faith and views.

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