Religious intolerance, here and abroad

Religious intolerance, here and abroad


Two examples of religious bigotry today, which helps illustrate the difference between individual and government discrimination.

First, in New Hampshire, an idiot confronted Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney’s visit to New Hampshire started on a sour note Tuesday when a restaurant patron declared he would not vote for the Republican presidential contender because of his faith.

“I’m one person who will not vote for a Mormon,” Al Michaud of Dover shouted at Romney when the former Massachusetts governor approached him inside Harvey’s Bakery.

The kicker? This wasn’t someone from the religious right; it was a self-described “liberal” who said he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton.

There are plenty of questions about Mr. Michaud. If he disagreed with Romney’s politics, why make a point of criticizing his faith? Why shout it out in a small, crowded room? It’s enough to make one wonder if his goal was actually to embarass Romney. And then there’s the classic question of whether he’s really a liberal — and if he actually understands what that word means.

Regardless, I hope we can agree that his moment of fame was classless, rude, illiberal and violative of American values, even if it is in accord with much of American political history. And be glad that in this country a member of a minority faith is only subjected to such individual actions and not (generally) government persecution.

Now let’s go to the other side of the globe, where that sadly is not the case.

Malaysia’s best known Christian convert, Lina Joy, lost a six-year battle on Wednesday to have the word “Islam” removed from her identity card, after the country’s highest court rejected the change.

The ruling threatens to further polarize Malaysian society between non-Muslims who feel that their constitutional right to religious freedom is being eroded, and Muslims who believe that civil courts have no right to meddle in Islamic affairs.

On the one hand, this is a fairly minor matter: words on an ID card. She was not actually prevented from converting, and is not in danger of being killed for doing so. And the legal point is minor, too: whether the secular courts have jurisdiction over such matters. They decided not, that only the country’s Sharia courts can allow the removal of the words from Joy’s card.

Let’s put aside, too, the problem of having parallel legal systems. Listen instead to the words of the judge:

“You can’t at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another,” Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said in delivering judgment in the case.

Or consider the reaction of the crowd outside:

About 200 mostly young Muslims welcomed the ruling outside the domed courthouse with shouts of “Allah-o-Akbar” (God is great).

And what fate awaits Joy in the sharia courts, if she goes that route?

In practice, sharia courts do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam, preferring to send apostates to counseling and, ultimately, fining or jailing them if they do not desist.

They often end up in legal limbo, unable to register their new religious affiliations or legally marry non-Muslims. Many keep silent about their choice or emigrate.

Fines and jailing, never mind the related legal prohibitions against marrying nonMuslims.

It always astonishes me that believers can justify coerced membership in religion, any religion, failing to understand that doing so not only grossly violates individual rights, but it undermines that religion’s legitimacy. It’s pure power politics, nothing more.

The world should continue to support Joy and express outrage not just at her treatment, but a legal system that allows such religious-based discrimination and disallows freedom of conscience. This is what true persecution looks like, and Malaysia should be pressured to change its laws to respect individual belief.

And for those of you inclined to ask “where are the moderate Muslims?”, consider this very balanced article from Al-Jazeera. Or Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian Muslim women’s group that is one of several that has sided with Joy in this case.

  • Rich Horton

    On the religion thing: Do you think there are ANY lines that can legitimately be drawn? For example, I am right with the German government in thinking that the “Church” of Scientology can be rightly classified as a pyramid scheme and as such falls under criminal conspiracy statutes. Does that make me a bigot if I won’t vote for a scientologist?

    I also think people are not being honest about this issue. There are plenty of, shall we say, unusual religious beliefs that people would have a hard time looking past. I’m sure plenty of Americans couldn’t look past the sacrifice of animals that some religions require. How many Americans could vote for a muslim who wanted to insitute sharia? That is a full fledged religious belief that would elicit very negative reactions against it…so would all those people be bigots?

    In the grand scheme of things Mormonism, as praticed today, is more a touch odd as opposed to outlandishly weird, and obviously it is mainstream enough for its members to attain high political office, even outside of Utah. But many Americans would find a member of the Society of Friends to be a little odd as well…though I doubt it would work against someone politically.

    Then again the Quakers don’t have the historical baggage that the Mormons have.

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    You totally stole my thunder Rich. I was going to ask Sean if he would vote for a Scientologist.

  • dj

    I wonder how many Americans would vote for a Pagan.

  • Justin Gardner

    Sean is having problems posting comments, so I’m posting this for him.

    Rich: Excellent points, especially the somewhat
    fuzzy distinction between a cult and a “legitimate”

    I spent nearly three years living in St. Petersburg,
    Fla., just down the road from Clearwater, which is
    Scientology Central. So I got to see firsthand some of
    the weirdness involved with them.

    There’s nothing wrong with being skeptical of people
    with odd beliefs. But to simply make a blanket
    statement that you would never vote for anyone
    who subscribes to a particular creed? That’s over the
    line, IMO.

    It comes down to policy vs. personal belief. Refuse to
    vote for a Muslim who advocates sharia law? Sure.
    Refuse to vote for any Muslims because the
    concept of sharia exists? No. Find out what the
    individual believes and vote on that basis, not a
    generalized stereotype of an entire diverse religion.

    So would I vote for a Scientologist? Sure, if s/he
    were otherwise politically acceptable to me and not
    notably loony.

    There is one instance where voting based almost
    entirely on a candidate’s religion is legitimate: when
    that religion is a political force in its own right,
    and there is legitimate worry that if believers take
    control they will run things for the benefit of the
    religion, not the community. Thus I fully understand
    people in Clearwater voting against Scientologist
    candidates, or people in Salt Lake City voting against
    Mormons. In both cases, the religion is a strong local
    political force, and outside the mainstream enough to
    warrant worries about how they would handle power.

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    So would I vote for a Scientologist? Sure, if s/he
    were otherwise politically acceptable to me and not
    notably loony.

    Gosh, I don’t know, man. Our ancestors arriving on this planet on inter-stellar DC-10’s? All maladies in the world caused by alien spirits who’s cryogenically preserved bodies are buried under volcanoes? The entire record of human history a hoax perpetrated by the galactic emperor Xenu to fool us into complacency? If you were a good driver I might hire one to drive a limousine, but to run my country?

    Then again, we do have a president who may actually believe in 6 day creation science, which I don’t think has anything to do with his failures as president, so who knows?

  • Eddie Keator

    Religion is nothing more then a crutch for those who fear questioning, opening their minds or accepting the religion is created by human kind.

    So mormans, christians, roman catholic, muslim, and so on, and so on… do NOT have the “corner of the market” for truth… any truth.

    These are purveyors of control, by means of guilt and shame and often enough, lies, deceit.

    I’d vote for a pagen before I’d vote for another baptist or mormon. I could care less about the candidates PERSONAL faith – it should not affect their leadership nor influence it. Being POTUS isn’t about be “faithful” but about being American and doing what is best for ALL people of this country.

    As to the topic and Religious Intolerence… even the Agnostic and Atheist are prejudiced against… here and abroad.