Thursday, February 23, 2012

Roger Trigg's "Equality, Freedom, and Religion"

Roger Trigg is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Warwick, and Academic Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life, Kellogg College, Oxford.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Equality, Freedom, and Religion, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book deals with the fact that ‘freedom of religion at its core must include the right to leave a religion, and to be converted to another’. That is a right denied in some Muslim countries. As I go on to say, however, if a change of belief is allowed, ‘the question still remains as to which practices are integral to the belief’. We are involved in the issue of the distinction between belief and manifestation. Limitations on belief, even as allowed in Charters of Rights, ‘can be far-reaching’. As I continue by saying on p.99, the limitation imposed (e.g. in the European Convention of Human Rights) ‘for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’ is particularly relevant ‘when there is a clash between different human rights’. My book is in fact basically concerned with this clash, and argues that one right should never be allowed simply to ‘trump’ other rights. There has to be a balance drawn, and ‘reasonable accommodation’ made. One side should not simply win. Although the book is primarily concerned with the problems arising in European and North American jurisdictions (including the United Kingdom), I do range further and on p.99 I give an Australian example.

The last paragraph on the page begins to draw out problems in drawing distinctions between belief and manifestation. Courts in many countries are prone to draw this too narrowly so that freedom of religion can be reduced to freedom of worship, without adequate attention being given to wider beliefs (say about marriage or the sanctity of life.). As I say at the bottom of p.99 : ‘it becomes an uninteresting truism that people can believe what they like, as long as they never express their beliefs in word or action.’ Even a totalitarian government could accept that, but it is part of any democracy that its citizens must be allowed to speak about what they think most important in human life, and act on it. Otherwise they are not allowed to contribute to public conversation or to the life of a democracy.

The challenge is whether any freedom can be preserved for long, if the basic human right to freedom of religious belief and practice is dismissed as of little account. Given the central role of religion in human life, unnecessary limitations on its expression are attacks on human freedom itself. My book tackles this theme.
Learn more about Equality, Freedom, and Religion at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue