A little more on this argument about the proposed religious hatred law.

There is for instance number 8 in the Home Office’s FAQ:

The Government is determined to protect both the rights of free speech, which have been long respected in this country, and the right to lead a life in which one can peacefully practise one’s own religion without fear.

That sounds unexceptionable, indeed benevolent, at first blush. But what about after a little thought? The difficulty is that leading ‘a life in which one can peacefully practise one’s own religion’ covers a lot of territory. Rather too much territory. Which is not (contra at least one of our commenters) to say that the government therefore ought to interfere with that right; it’s simply to say that the idea itself might not be as benign as it first looks. That’s the thing about phrases like that – phrases that sound good and kind and caring and concerned: they set us all up to read and hear them as benign and helpful when in fact they may not be, or they may be so only partly, or with a lot of further qualifications. In short, there’s rhetoric afoot. There are several hurrah-words that are meant to make us think the idea is a hurrah-idea – that’s how hurrah-words work. Right, lead a life, peacefully, one’s own, religion. They’re all gathered together there to block any impulse we might have to say ‘Wait, hang on, what about – ‘ I mean to say – how can anyone object to protecting all those things? People peacefully leading their own lives and peacefully practising their own religion – you might as well offer to burst into their living rooms and strangle their puppies.

But, as I mentioned, in reality the phrase covers a lot of ground. Practising one’s own religion may include subordinating, exploiting, and harming other people. Sad to say, one of the things religions do is erect and justify systems for, precisely, the subordination and exploitation and harming of other people. This is not a secret. So issuing blanket ukases about the peaceful practise of religion is not always as benign as it may sound. People who’ve grown up around milder forms of religion may lose track of this fact – and then phrases like the one under discussion help the process along. Religion is ‘one’s own’ – so obviously it can’t harm anyone else, right? Because it’s ‘one’s own’. My opinions don’t hurt you, yours don’t hurt me; everybody’s happy. But religious beliefs are not always inert, to say the least; they influence and justify behavior and action. Some fathers and brothers (and sometimes mothers) think it is right to murder daughters and sisters who have, say, run away from arranged marriages or married the ‘wrong’ man. From their point of view, they are indeed practising their own religion. So the phrase is misleading. Maybe that doesn’t matter; it’s just one phrase, after all; but the whole discussion all too often relies on phrases like that. I think that’s worth keeping in mind.

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