WRIGHT WAY: Religious freedom on trial?
by WILLIAM WRIGHT
Jan 23, 2013 | 2079 views | 0 0 comments | 127 127 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Religious freedom is a right but not an absolute one, according to a recent Associated Press article that reported on several of Europe’s top court rulings that were welcomed by civil liberties groups but condemned by religious advocates.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that British Airways discriminated against an employee by making her remove her crucifix, but backed a United Kingdom charity that fired a marriage counselor who refused to give sex therapy to gay couples.

The article said the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the airline’s policy “amounted to an interference with her right to manifest her religion.” The 60-year-old check-in clerk was reportedly jumping for joy and said, “It’s a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith.”

But the court ruled against a nurse who was told to remove a crucifix necklace at work, because her employer had banned necklaces “for health and safety grounds, and so asking her to remove the symbol was not excessive.”

The court said, “Where an individual’s religious observance impinges on the rights of others, some restrictions can be made,” according to the AP. The European Court of Human Rights also struck down claims by a local authority registrar who said her Christian faith prevented her from overseeing same-sex civil partnerships, and a marriage counselor who refused to offer sex therapy to gay couples.

In both cases, the court said employers had been entitled to strike a balance between claimants’ rights to manifest their religious beliefs and the rights of others not to suffer discrimination. Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said the verdicts were “an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense.”

But some religious groups said the rulings sent the message that sexual orientation trumps religion when it comes to rights. Dave Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, said, “If we want to create a society that is diverse and can live with its deepest differences there needs to be a fuller protection for religious beliefs, convictions and actions.”

Many supporters feel this “protection” should include tax exemption for all religious institutions. But this too, has been a case for the European courts in recent years. For example, on Dec. 11, 2012 the government of France repaid to Jehovah’s Witnesses funds totaling more than $8.2 million after the European Court of Human Rights found that France was guilty of violating their religious freedom through an illegal tax.

In 1998, the government asserted that religious donations made by the Witnesses were subject to a 60 percent retroactive tax and, in 2003, demanded partial payment. Since the Court ruled that the tax was illegal, the French government is starting to implement the Court’s decision by returning the funds collected, with interest, and paying all legal expenses.

For Christians around the world, defending their faith in court is nothing new. At Philippians 1:7, Paul spoke about “the defense and confirmation of the gospel” or as the New World Translation renders it, “the defending and legally establishing of the good news.”

In Acts 25:11-12, Paul told Roman authorities, “If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” — New International Version.

Defending one’s faith before government authorities can be traced back to Moses standing before Pharaoh (Exodus (9:1), Christ standing before the Jewish Supreme Court, Governor Pontius Pilate and King Herod Antipas (Matthew 22:66-23:25), as well as Paul going before Caesar. This has also been true of other religious groups who continue to fight for their religious freedom as well.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy said years ago, “Religious freedom is too sacred a right to be restricted or prohibited in any degree without convincing proof that a legitimate interest of the state is in grave danger.”

Yes, religious freedom is a right, but it is not an absolute right. No one has the right to harm others for religious reasons or to force their worship on others. Courts are called upon to render judgements in sensitive areas to strike a balance between what is reasonable and what may be excessive. You win some. You lose some.

On that note I am reminded of Paul’s words at 1Corinthians 4:3-4: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” — New International Version.

The Most High will be the ultimate Judge of worship that He approves. For that, we can all be happy.

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