Since ancient times, there have been hundreds upon hundreds of religions. Religions serve various functions for society – providing everything from enlightenment to simple relief and hope from the drudgery of everyday life. Religion once also acted as an organizing social institution that paralleled governments in the past. Because of the many types of religions, intolerance is one of the most frequent results, especially since many religions are bound with missions to ‘enlighten’ others through conversion.
- What for? Religious intolerance results in plenty of violence. For example, the Crusades in the past have resulted in thousands of individuals being accused of heresy and consequently being sent to death and torture. Although there are plenty of political undertones beneath each religious gesture, the point is that extremists have proven to be more detrimental to peace than the virtues which religions are supposed to espouse. As church and state where separated in most countries, the need to establish and foster tolerance between various religious groups emerged.
- Practice. Religious freedom-j, therefore, was created to ensure that peace and harmony is maintained in a given society by allowing people to practice their own religious systems and beliefs, as long as the practice is done in such a way that is not disruptive of other people who hold other beliefs. Religious teachings are also allowed to be passed on from one believe to the other.
- No persecution. One of the landmarks that the idea of religious freedom has made is the loss of persecution for people who believed in religions which are not mainstream, or which is not adhered to by society at large. In the past, smaller sects and minority religious systems experienced discrimination and persecution.
- Written in the constitution. For a growing number of countries, religious freedom is being considered part of the constitution. This is especially prevalent in countries which adhere to the democratic form of government. Thomas Jefferson, an American president, declared that worshipping God according to each individual and culture’s way is not only possible, but should be legitimized. In some countries that have specifically declared religions, freedom of religion is expressed through the explicit tolerance for minorities to practice their religion. There are also international laws today which protect religious freedom, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Generally, people are beginning to consider religious freedom as a part of the basic human rights.
Religious freedom has varied from the past to the present. There have been rulers and societies that allowed a variety of religions to be practiced, such as in the Maurya Empire in India which was the first society to codify religious tolerance. There have also been many instances of violations, such as when dominant religions persecute minor religions that are threatening to the dominant position of the established religion. Today, there are still countries which do not practice religious freedom, such as certain Islamic countries which do not tolerate other religions in their state. Along with the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, however, the basic human liberties including the right to worship are being fostered, to remove the cycle of tyranny from entities that persecute the religiously different.