The Violation of Human Rights Under Religious Regimes
Before the Separation of Church and State
Let me take you back a thousand years, specifically to the period following the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 to about 1450, often referred to as the dark ages. This period of time saw many hardships. During the period of the Roman Empire, the poor were protected by Roman law and soldiers, but when the empire collapsed, the peasants were crushed by a system of feudalism which prevented them from climbing out of poverty. Some peasants were free, but most became serfs to a lord. This meant they were bound to the lord’s land and required to pay very high rent to stay there. For the entirety of their lives, they would have had to tolerate the whims of lord's in order to make a living. For many, the living conditions were so oppressive that their only hope was to believe in a better afterlife. Most were forced to turn to the Church as a means of coping with their condition–to escape the terrible state of their lives.
The first place many of these people turned was to the Catholic Church. Catholicism held a huge amount of influence in Europe, and the Church had the power to overrule even Kings in matters of law and constitution. The Pope and his bishops were seen as un-worldly, and therefore above all men. Under the rule of King Richard I of England, thousands of Muslims were massacred in the crusades of the Middle East in the name of God. Peasants and serfs were forced to give up a portion of their weekly work to labor on Church land for no payment in return. Peasants were also forced to pay 10 percent of their earnings to the church through an unfair tax called a tithe. Often, people could not afford to pay the tithe and were forced to pay it in grain. Even so, they continued to pay the tax in order to not be cut off from heaven. The Church also had the power to inflict capital punishment for any religious offender.
This history lesson is to illustrate what life was like when there was no separation between church and state, and freedom of religion was outlawed. Luckily, today's America is a country where the separation of church and state is a reality, and religion is not above the law. Western ideals like checks and balances and democracy have been put in place to protect human rights, and rightfully so. Christianity still has a place, but is altered in a way that doesn’t directly influence laws. The most recent example would be the legalization of gay marriage in June of 2015. A continuing problem that remains is certain cultures are still upholding religious law. Some places around the world still don’t have the separation of church and state, places like:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
In the countries listed above, Sharia law, which refers to God’s immutable divine law, still reigns. Sharia law, which is also called Islamic law, is a set of guiding moral principles derived from the teachings of Muhammed. This law covers every aspect of Muslim life, and began after the death of Muhammad in 632 A.D. Sharia law is not objectively bad by any means, it is a sacred way of life for every Muslim, but if it has the power to influence the laws of a country, it can lead to the oppression of many important values such as freedom of religion, freedom of expression, gender equality and freedom of sexual orientation. Some measures of Sharia law which oppress individual freedoms are:
- Blasphemy, which is punishable by death
- The objectification of women
- Severe punishment for petty crimes (for example, a thief may be punished by having their hand amputated)
- The inability of women to open a bank account
- The inability of women to maintain custody of their children
- Apostasy, which is punishable by death
To give you a better idea of the oppressiveness of Sharia law, an anecdote: Malak al Shehri is a woman living in Saudi Arabia who one day decided to take off her Hijab and post a picture on twitter. She was immediately inundated with tons of threats demanding her execution. She was arrested shortly after this posting, and faced lashings due to her offense.
Similarly, an unknown Iranian woman was just recently arrested for removing her head scarf in public. She was arrested and served three months in jail for “encouraging moral corruption." Since 1965, Iran has enforced a strict law against women without headscarves.
Yet another Iraqi woman who is transsexual and named Nadia* struggled for acceptance from her country. Instead of receiving acceptance, she faced years of abuse which forced her to drop out of school. Her family was very unaccepting and her uncle and father forcibly injected her with testosterone and rubbed her skin with steel wool to try to promote hair growth. This eventually led to her abduction by a militia group which targeted trans people. She recalls being “tortured and beat” everyday, and described how some of her peers had their orifices sealed by glue. Several were killed. Luckily she sought and received asylum in a different country with the help of a friendly doctor, and survived. (UN refugees account)
Sharia law, predictably, has a complicated relationships with the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality is currently illegal in:
- South Sudan
- Gaza Strip
What's more, homosexuality is punishable by death in:
- Saudi Arabia
This needs to change so that people do not need to fearing for their lives when it comes to expressing their sexuality. In Iran alone, over 5,000 gays and lesbians have been executed. In order to correct this injustice, these laws must be changed. They are derived from Islamic law, which declares that “homosexual acts cannot occur legally because it takes place outside of marriage.”
The Vatican is a holy place for all Christians, and the home of the Pope. The Vatican is technically its own country, meaning it upholds its own laws and courts. People in the Vatican also live tax free. The Vatican has great influence on religious based laws, and currently has a population of 840 people. People living within the Vatican are not held accountable for their actions because of fraudulent courts. Living in the Vatican is living in a tax free country with no legal consequences, and, as mentioned before, the Church has the final word.
Gender inequality in the Vatican is a problem. Women do not have the right to vote because they do not have the opportunity to become Cardinals. Women in Christianity, especially in the Vatican, don’t have the same opportunities as men. Women are not allowed to be a pope, nor a bishop, according to the word of Christ. It would only be fair if women were given the same opportunity as men in Christianity, such as the right to vote.
The separation of religion from legislation is extremely important to protect human rights. Whether it be the most basic of rights, such as the freedom of expression or freedom of thought, basic equalities like the right to vote or equal opportunities are essential.
*Not her real name
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© 2018 Eliot Hall