Since 9/11 the most contentious issue pertains to whether or not religious freedom should be granted in America and whether granted or not, what would be the appropriate means of interpreting and applying the First Amendment’s clause.
The answer takes us back to 1791, when Congress enacted the First Amendment to elucidate the American experiment in terms of religious freedom. Since then, America continued to escort the citizens by keeping the word of mouth to extend the promise of religious freedom on a more fair basis to every citizen.
There is no doubt that contemporary America is the most multi-religious society on earth which among the developed countries fulfills the criteria of not only being extensively ‘religious’, but is also expanding to some extent religious pluralism.
This pluralism combines with cultural wars thereby ushering religious differences which on a longer spectrum are slow poisoning the citizens for being increasingly crowded and sometimes towards hostile arena.
This hostility after witnessing a long passage of various regimes including totalitarian regime, authoritarian and oligarchy landed up with the purest form of freedom i.e, direct democracy and at the turn of the new millennium penetrated into various religious ideologies to be followed on the world’s political agenda in unexpected hostile and frightening ways.
Since the legislature was composed of citizens from every nationality, it required a high level of participation from every citizen and ignored the upcoming dangers of direct democracy that not only upsurged religious extremism accompanied by massive violence, but also opened the eyes of people who had considered religion a relic of the past that would gradually disappear as modern thinking overtook the world. When emerged with modernization such democracy provided a fertile ground for the rise of fundamentalism.
For many societies the term ‘fundamentalism’ has been directly associated with Muslims, however when scholars presented their opinions regarding fundamentalism, it was revealed that this term is not necessarily pertained to a specific group of religion but highlights those extremist movements that take place in response to a number of social problems and can be a part of every religion or culture.
History suggests that this ‘fundamentalism’ is the response to the Christian movements that incurred in the early twentieth century as a group of American orthodox Protestants and this was the name they freely chose to refer to their movements. This shift that defined ‘religious freedom’ from self-definition to outside infliction possessed serious implications for the relationships between adherents of different faith communities.
Today religious freedom is the foremost issue that has incurred as a result of direct democracy which is affecting millions of American citizens being victims of sectarian violence and state repression of religious faith.
Fundamentalism has brought terrorism and has freed terrorist activities throughout the country, but the manner in which government officials investigate American citizens for being involved in ‘terror attacks’ is ridiculous. It is this ‘freedom’ that has ended up in catastrophic events among thousands of families as everyday umpteen American citizens are being investigated in the name of ‘war on terror’.
Despite the vague application of the term ‘fundamentalism’ in the arena of ‘religious freedom’, government has failed to seize the ‘religious’ existence and its usage has become an undeniable social fact. Of course this is what the fruits of democracy have brought to us that today we are not able to decide if a single religion would have worked sufficiently in the country.
In such circumstances it is obvious that what matters is not the concern over a religious or a multi-religious aspect, but the political conditions in which they become dominant. This illustrates that a single religion would not even have worked well to alleviate this ‘religious freedom’ consequences unless the legislation limits practicing religion to a certain extent.
The solution is not to restrict religions in the society but to consider those religious factors that appear prominent in all forms of religious fundamentalist movements. As fundamentalist movements are first and foremost social movements which should be critically judged and evaluated like any other social movement in the past.
Fundamentalist movements are not only the byproducts and agents of social change that negate the existence of any religion itself, but other social conditions are also the crucial factors in their development. Iranian revolution is one common example of such movement. Other factors behind such movements are the political values that often ignore their policies pertaining to migration.
These include political conditions and factors behind unsettling events that result in high unemployment, rebellion, revolution and lack of social harmony and religious persecution. Often in political participation, religious freedom is an issue that provides lame excuses or it would be better to say that it acts as a weapon to threat political stability.
This can be illustrated by considering the 1980s and 1990s movements that escorted religious leaders and scholars to initiate internal debates and external dialogues on the religious sources and meanings of universal human rights. At that time political leaders showed their interest in considering religion among one of the foundations of cultures of non-violence and civic tolerance.
These communities including politicians claimed witness and related human rights spectrum to every ancient scripture and ethical traditions that they had been aware of. What they claim today deviates from what Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders responded to the excesses of radical individualism in North America at that time.
Today they teach civic responsibility in service to the common good that is deviated by history in the form of religious exploitation, and preach a balance between all religious practices. Contemporary politics state no room for equilibrium, instead it demands limiting the practice of every religion.
Religious freedom should be granted to the extent where the law forbids any movement taking place in public affairs and discouraging the use of demonstrating too much religious state in campaigns.
However, the conditions that provoke a fundamentalist reaction may be the result of internal or external political or social developments including pressures of modernization, security threats, and changing political trends in shifting power from autocracy to democracy or from oligarchy to pure democracy.
What is needed, is a static society so as to put an end to producing fundamentalism. That clearly indicates the significance of autocratic power in a society where democracy is worn in every amending legislation.
However, history suggests that whenever the Congress debated over the provisions of the ‘Freedom from Religious Persecution Act’ in the past by proposing legislation to impose sanctions on countries that deny their citizens religious rights and restrict worship, the Orthodox Christian churches emanated religious human rights and peace-building. Thus, the sensible approach does not require to limit the religion, but to limit the exercise of religious groups through policies and legislation.