The concept of separation between religion and government has been adopted by several nations to varying degrees. This is in regard to the applicable legal institutions and prevailing views towards the actual role of religion in different countries. In some countries, these institutions are closely interconnected.
The variations exist in the level of religious freedom, tolerance and interrelatedness to secular political and financial ties. Questions have been raised over the extent to which a government should interfere with religious practices within a country. In my opinion, religious freedom and freedom for worship should be guaranteed in the constitution of any nation. The government should only interfere with a religious practice of a particular religion only if it finds a convincing reason to do so.
Religious practices differ across different religions. These variations in practices may sometimes create conflict in the society or may go against the laws of the land established to ensure peaceful co-existence. Such religious practices which can disrupt peace or smooth co-existence in the country can be restricted by the government. However, these restrictions to religious freedom need to be neutral and should be applied equally to all persons.
For example, in 1990, a case was brought before the US Supreme Court (Employment Division v. Smith), where a native person was involved in smoking a hallucinogenic substance as part of his religious tradition (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 3). Such religious practices may be dangerous to a nation if we take a look at its long-term impacts. Other individuals with evil minds who smoke the substance can easily join the religion since they are protected by the right to worship which include such practices.
In some instances, this has been the foundation of cults which in most cases terrorize the public and disrupt peace in the country. It is always easy to convince people, particularly the youth when they are under the influence of drugs to involve in activities which cause harm to the public.
The government therefore should have the authority to monitor the activities of such religions which come up with practices parallel to any normal societal life or what it considers illegal. It has to adopt a method that results in minimal interference with religious freedom of societies, organizations or individuals (Enyedi, and Madeley, 203). Such fairness in treatment is also guaranteed in the US Religious Freedom Act of 1993.
The government has to accept all religions equally. There are instances where the government should just impose special requirements and not ban the religious activities. For example, what the government of France has done, banning Muslim women from covering their faces in public, could have been better solved if they were to be required to remove the covering in security sensitive places.
Interference with religious practices of a particular religion is also important whenever the government proves that certain practices of the religion is bound to lead to religious conflict or violence. Religiously-motivated violence, terrorism, murder and genocide have often been felt in various parts of the world. The government should have the authority to stop or ban religious teachings which are characterized by hate, intolerance, anger, superiority and arrogance.
Religious extremists have often spread hate messages to innocent individuals and this sometimes lead to religious intolerance that has driven religious fanatics to kill innocent people. Such mass murder or terrorist activities have been experienced in New York (September 11), Sudan, Turkey, Bosnia among other countries. Nigeria is among the countries which have experienced serious religious wars.
In 2010, the US government together with the government of Kenya stopped Al-Faisal, a Muslim preacher, from carrying out in any religious activities in Kenya. It was discovered that the preacher’s teachings comprised hate messages which could have caused religious intolerance, and as a result, he was deported back to his country, Jamaica.
This shows just how important a government’s intervention in certain religious activities is important. However, in such cases, the individuals creating such tensions are the ones who are supposed to be dealt with and not the religion. Extremists profoundly communicate intolerant viewpoints against other religions, which are meant to fuel attacks on individuals who hold different beliefs.
The government has a role to play in preventing religiously-motivated attacks on innocent citizens. The government has to come in and restrict oppression and denigration of individuals who belong to other religions. It has to develop policies which refrain individuals from comparing practices and beliefs of other religions with an intention of negatively criticizing the opposing religion.
Lack of interference by the governments could lead to religious wars such as those experienced during the early time of the Roman Catholic ,when the pope organized for the massacre of Muslims and Turks, who were interfering with religious practices of Roman Catholics in Jerusalem and the Holy City (Arnold 13).
The government also needs to have authority to intervene in situations where the religious practices of an individual interferes with that of another, who for some reasons, can not defend himself/herself. The government has to step in when religious activities of a religious group harm others.
For example, when a parent refuses to allow nurses to immunize his or her child against a disease, citing religion, the government has to employ a method that will ensure that the child’s right to life is not violated. In that case, the government has to find a way of talking to the parent to agree to the medical treatment since the child can not speak for him/herself.
While ensuring peaceful co-existence between different religions, it has to allow each person to change his/her religion or belief as he or she wishes (Jefferson 3). It should also permit people from a different religion to associate with others from different religion and to express their beliefs freely. Many countries such as Greece, China and several Muslim countries have often restricted missionary activities by some religions (Iran Human Rights Documentation Center 17). These countries do not allow certain religions to hold public crusades.
This is a violation of human rights of such individuals since these countries have not found any compelling reason to stop them from carrying out their religious activities. This denies citizens of such countries the freedom to change their religion. Such interference also seeks to preserve power as well as believe in a certain religion.
Religion forms a fundamental part of human life and the society as a whole. Freedom of religion and religious practices should therefore be guaranteed in the constitution. However, due to the need for unity in diversity and peaceful co-existence in the multi-religious society, the government has to intervene in situations which could disrupt peace and harmony in the country.
Arnold, Jack. Church History: The Height and Decline of the Papacy (1073-1517). Medieval Church History, part 3. IIIM Magazine Online, 1, no. 33 (17 October, 1999). 02 August, 2011, http://www.thirdmill.org/newfiles/jac_arnold/CH.Arnold.CH.19.html
Enyedi, Zsolt and Madeley, John (2003). Church and state in contemporary Europe: the chimera of neutrality. Philadelphia PA: Psychology Press.
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha’is of Iran. 2007. 02 August, 2011. http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/pdfs/Reports/bahai_report.pdf
Jefferson, Thomas. Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists. Washington DC: U.S. Library of Congress. 1802. 02 August, 2011. http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html.
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. The US Government vs Individual Religious freedom in the US. Religious Tolerance Organization, 2011. 02 August, 2011. http://www.religioustolerance.org/govt_con.htm