Thorne Godinho
Thorne Godinho

Religious freedom is not at stake

This past week long-time African Christian Democratic Party MP Cheryllyn Dudley called for the creation of a multiparty parliamentary committee focused on protecting religious freedom. This issue is becoming a hot topic among conservative politicians the world over, with numerous South African organisations such as Errol Naidoo’s Family Policy Institute (FPI) claiming to champion religious freedom as well.

Naidoo’s organisation claims that it promotes “faith, family and freedom”. It would be more accurate to say that the FPI pursues only one faith and one conception of family, while standing up for unfreedom.

Where the FPI decries the death of the “natural family”, it remains blind to the families that exist (and have always existed) outside of this narrow conception of family. Love, community, belonging and care are powerful and important values. One conception of family destroys the capacity for individuals to experience these values. It also removes the freedom of individuals and already existing families.

Despite FPI’s incessant fear-mongering in respect of religious freedom, these constitutional rights (which all of us share) remain untouched. Religious freedom is not being eroded by any kind of “sexual rights agenda”, as the FPI claims. If anything, the FPI is a testament to the ongoing freedom of right-wing groups.

FPIscreengrab1

In this apparently unfree and unfriendly new world, Naidoo is able to host his own television show on DStv. Here, guests are free to discuss conversion therapy, Uganda’s crackdown on gay rights, and right-wing politics. The FPI is even free to send out endless newsletters calling on supporters to fund the FPI’s, and by extension: Naidoo’s, agenda.

Pray tell, where is the oppression?

Perhaps it exists in the family that forces their teenage daughter to attend conversion therapy. Or in Uganda, where LGBTI people have seen their democratic and human rights removed. Maybe it exists in the 29 states in America which allow employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Underpinning this gross hypocrisy is a grand conspiracy that there is a “liberal media” (the same one that allowed Jon Qwelane to publish this?) and secular elite promoting the death of God and religious freedom. With this conspiracy comes an insidious war on the civil liberties of individuals — for some “religious freedom” has become a catchall term for the restriction of your rights so as to protect their sensitivities.

Convincing people that they ought to relinquish their rights and freedoms is always difficult, which is why very few dictators politely ask for supreme power. But the right-wing know they can ask you to give up your rights if they package this request in fear and deliver it to you with a catchy label: religious freedom — something very few people want to give up, atheist or believer.

If you are provided with a choice: ban pornography (which you probably don’t even watch, right?) or let the evil humanists advance a “sexual rights agenda”, which threatens you and your children, you’re likely to opt for the former. When the question of relinquishing rights becomes about protecting other rights (imagined or real), and perhaps protecting your family and community, it’s much easier to give up those rights. In fact, it’s much easier to forget about freedom when the political evangelist at your front door is spinning a grand and scary narrative about how the very foundation of your world, which could be your religion or family, could come tumbling down.

Religious freedom can coexist with other rights. And we don’t need a special task team or portfolio committee to protect those rights. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, and a waste of elected officials’ time.

We just need a government and society committed to protecting the freedom of each individual to imagine and live a life they value; this means we need to advance the notion that people must have the personal and psychic space to choose how to love, live and worship (or choose not to worship).

It really is that simple.

Image – Screengrab from familypolicyinstitute.com

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