02 July 2013

The limits of "freedom of religion"

I have always been a defender of the freedom of religion, and the freedom of believing in any other type of nonsense, on one simple condition: that freedom must stop where it harms others, just as any other freedom must stop there.

In the Netherlands, there is now after 14 years, a new outbreak of the measles. At least 160 children are infected, all in the Dutch version of the Bible belt, 5 of whom are in hospital. Why? Because their parents refuse vaccination for religious reasons. Measles is not an innocent childhood disease. 30 years ago, the disease killed 2.5 million children a year worldwide. Vaccination against measles, which is both very cheap and highly effective, has reduced this to around 165 thousand.

This is just another example that disproves the claim that religion is not harmful. Yes, Muslims killed a few thousand in one go in the US. Yes, that is horrible. However, it is just as horrible that Christians allow their children to die by refusing vaccination, that Jehova's witnesses allow their children to die by refusing blood transfusions or that Jews allow their children to die of herpes as the result of genital mutilation.

Freedom of religion is fine. However, claiming the privilege to harm and kill on the basis of a supposed moral authority given by an imaginary dictator in the sky is not.