Religious Exceptionalism and Human Rights
Religion and the Discourse of Human Rights: The Israel Democracy Institute; Editors: Hanoch Dagan, Shahar Lifshitz, Yedidia Z. Stern, 2014
23 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2014
Date Written: Nov. 11, 2013
When we think of human rights and religion, we generally think of complimentary — or even subsumed — ideas. Human rights include all of those human capacities and freedoms that are essential to human existence. This includes freedom of religion. And although there are disputes in the twenty-first century world legal order about some human-rights claims, freedom of religion is not one of them. It is universally recognized, at least as an abstract idea, as a fundamental human right.
However, this happy identity of religion and human rights is a superficial one. This is because freedom of religion, asserted as a human right by one person, might involve — as its consequence or even its object — the denial of the human rights of others. When this occurs, the simple identity of religion and human rights breaks down; instead the two become severe antagonists.
In this essay, I will explore the issues involved in the antagonism between religion and human rights. In particular, I will examine these issues in the context of a current and heated controversy: whether freedom of religion, as a human right, entitles an individual or group to discriminate against gay, lesbian, or transgender individuals or couples for religious reasons. For example, a municipal clerk might refuse to issue a same-sex marriage license or to register a same-sex civil partnership; an employee of a government contractor (hired to provide counseling services to government employees) might refuse to provide same sex relationship counseling; or a physician might refuse to provide infertility treatment to a lesbian woman, all on asserted religious grounds.
Keywords: Religion, human rights, samesex, transgender, gay, lesbian,
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