Freedom of religion

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Preach to the choir
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Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith
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Freedom of religion could use some help. Please research the article's assertions. Whatever is credible should be sourced, and what is not should be removed.

For the abuse of the concept of freedom of religion as a cover for intolerance, see religious freedom.
Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia.[1]

Freedom of religion is the right to worship (or not worship) in any manner you choose.

As a basic freedom[edit]

Freedom of religious worship is included as a specific case of freedom of expression and freedom of speech. In general, what a person believes doesn't actively harm others, yet holding and espousing any number of beliefs may expose that same person to persecution. To address this, freedom of religion is a protected right.[2]


  • Australia — since the Constitution was drafted in the 1890s, section 116 has prohibited establishing, imposing, or restricting any religious practice, or religious tests for office[3]
  • Brazil — Codified since 1890, in the constitution since 1946
  • Canada — Freedom of religion is a constitutionally-protected "fundamental freedom" according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, subject to "reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society"
  • China — The Constitution of 1982 grants freedom of, and from, religion to all of its citizens. However, in reality, only religious associations which submit to the state can observe their beliefs unmolested.[4]
  • Estonia — Constitutionally-guaranteed in article 40
  • France — In the constitution since 1798,[5] and followed up by the policy of "laïcité" — officially mandating separation of church and state — since 1905[6]
  • Germany — Article 4 of the Basic Law guarantees "freedom of faith and conscience" and the right to practice religion undisturbed[7][8]
  • India — Guaranteed in article 15 and Article 25 of the Constitution of India,[9] and a preamble amended in 1976 states that India is a secular state[10]
  • Ireland — Article 44 of the constitution ("subject to public order and morality" though)[11]; until 1972 the Catholic Church was specially privileged[12]
  • Japan — In the constitution (article 20) since 1946[13]
  • Mexico — Since 1859. Clergy cannot run for office, or make political statements
  • Netherlands — In the constitution since 1983, though religious schools receive government funds
  • New Zealand — Codified in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, section 15[14][15]
  • Philippines — Codified in the 1987 constitution[16]
  • Poland — In the constitution
  • Portugal — In the constitution since 1976
  • Spain — In the constitution since 1978
  • Switzerland — In the Swiss Constitution since 1874[17]; Article 15 in the 1999 Federal Constitution[18]
  • United Kingdom — Guaranteed since the ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights, strengthened since the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998. However, the UK does have an established state religion ("Cake or death?"[19]) and the abolition of legal penalties for blasphemy was shockingly recent (2008)[20]
  • United States — Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the constitution[21] and is closely associated with separation of church and state (known as the "wall of separation")[22]

Freedom from religion[edit]

See also: Freedom from Religion Foundation

While there are (apparently many) on the Religious Right that disagree, freedom from religion (e.g., the ability to be an atheist, secular humanist, and so on) is an integral part of freedom of religion. This is because without the ability to choose to not partake in religious activity, the free choice of religious activity becomes meaningless. Freedom of choice requires informed consent, and a cornerstone of this is the ability to withdraw consent — otherwise it's coerced, and therefore not free consent. If the option to not be religious is removed, then being religious becomes effectively forced and the power that the belief has (because it was chosen out of all others, including the "N/A" option) is diminished.


There are multiple problems with the concept of freedom of religion, and how far a person's freedom of worship should be protected:

  • Religion and culture are often deeply intertwined. Many wars are religion-based (or religion is used to justify them ad hoc), many countries have a dominant religion or religions even when there is officially no religion that is endorsed or supported by the state,[note 1] and worshipping contrary to the state (or, even worse, following a religion that happens to be seen as a threat[note 2]) is seen as an act of civil, not religious, disobedience. The "9/11 Mosque" brouhaha is an example of this.
  • Religion often demands actions from believers that offend the culture they exist in or conflicts with the values of the land. Examples include:
  • Monotheistic religion, by its very nature, tends to demand that it is the only true religion. "Thou shall have no other god but me," as Yahweh put it.[note 4] As such, those religions tend to frown on religious freedom for infidels (i.e. the rest of us).
  • Religion has historically been used as a last resort argument against, well, everything, but notably integration, and freedom of religion used as an argument to support discrimination in public accommodations, services, etc. To this end, the religious right has co-opted the phrases "religious freedom" and "religious liberty" as euphemisms for their bigotry and their desire to continue controlling others.
  • People that belong to a well-codified religion can find it easier to assert certain rights ("I would like to have a cross in my hospital room because it gives me comfort") than those that do not ("I would like to have a funny picture of a pig in my room for the same reason").

See also[edit]


  1. Examples of religions that are dominant in their nation, even if not officially endorsed by the state, include Christianity in the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and several other countries (especially in Europe and the Americas), Judaism in Israel, Hinduism (as well as Buddhism and Islam to lesser extents) in India, and Buddhism and Shinto in Japan.
  2. Islam is the standout example of a religion that is seen as a threat in the modern day, especially in Western nations such as the United States, Great Britain, and the members of the European Union (as well as in India to some extent, where Muslims and Hindus are often literally trying to tear each other's throats out), but most religions have been seen as a threat and subsequently persecuted in some nation at some time or another. For example, Buddhist/Shinto Japan went through a period of ruthlessly exterminating Christians, the aforementioned "Muslims and Hindus trying to tear each other's throats out" situation in India has been going on for roughly a millennium,[citation needed] and the Christian Spanish conquerors of South America responded famously poorly to the Aztecs' practice of human sacrifice (though Christianity has historically looked upon any pagan religion negatively). And then there are those people who see all religions as threats.
  3. This practice has been deemed constitutionally-protected, so long as the person will eat the animal, and the sacrifice is not any more traumatic to the animal than other forms of non-ritual food-slaughter.
  4. Though the original reading of that would be "Thou shalt have no other god(s) before me", which could be taken as an admission that other gods exist, but should not be treated as more important than Yahweh by Yahweh's chosen people. The history of the early Jewish religion is complicated, and it doesn't help that the contents of the Torah and Bible have repeatedly been edited (sometimes deliberately, sometimes as an unintended result of translation, and sometimes as an intended result of translation) to suit the new direction of the Jewish and Christian faiths.[citation needed] (Which in and of itself should be a death blow against the concepts of Biblical literalism, Biblical inerrancy, and the perfection of dogma, but if there's one thing fundies are good at, it's ignoring information that doesn't conform to their worldview[citation NOT needed])


  1. Notes on the State of Virginia. Wikiquote.
  2. International standards on freedom of religion or belief OHCHR
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Freedom of religion in China.
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Freedom of religion in France.
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Laïcité.
  7. Basic Law,
  8. See the Wikipedia article on Freedom of religion in Germany.
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Freedom of religion in India.
  11. Constitution of Ireland, Irish Statute Book
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland.
  13. See the Wikipedia article on Freedom of religion in Japan.
  14. See the Wikipedia article on Human rights in New Zealand.
  15. New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, Section 15, New Zealand Government
  16. See the Wikipedia article on Freedom of religion in Philippines.
  17. See the Wikipedia article on Religion in Switzerland.
  18. Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, Swiss Federal Government website
  20. See the Wikipedia article on Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 § Blasphemy.
  21. See the Wikipedia article on Freedom of religion in the United States.
  22. See the Wikipedia article on Separation of church and state in the United States.
  26. Even religious freedom has limits, USA Today