Monday, May 5, 2008
Religious Freedom in Russia and the Polygamist Sect
A recent New York Times story about religious freedom in Russia has prompted me to think more about our own religious freedom here in the US, especially in light of the polygamist sect trial in Texas. Religious freedom is waning in Russia. The manner in which this is taking place, however, is of particular importance. Russians have not simply made non-Russian Orthodox religions illegal. Religious freedom is protected in their constitution. Rather, the Russian government has passed laws that make the activities of these religions illegal. Religious groups are required to register with the state and need permission from the state in order to buy property. In other words, they are using the law to place restrictions on minority faiths. In the US, we need to be careful not to fall into a pattern where we use laws to restrict religious freedom even as it's guaranteed in the Constitution. Small, unusual religious groups, such as the one we've seen on the news in Texas, are most in danger. If they did anything illegal, such as the physical or sexual abuse of minors, then punishment is warranted. But this should not lead us in the direction of making the activities of their faith illegal. In 1878, the Supreme Court upheld a law that made polygamy illegal. I think this was a mistake. We need to be careful to not let our disgust of those that are strange to lead us to pass laws aimed at restricting these minority faiths.