Religion and Discrimination :
One might take the view that society should be tolerant to any religion so long as it conforms to our laws and written constitution. At first glance, this statement seems as fit an answer as possible to the question of societal limits to religious tolerance. Unfortunately, if one were to consider the matter with more caution, one would eventually see that the statement could only be part of a greater answer. It is without a consideration of some of the elements which constitute cults as well as other factors that one would falter in devising a definitive answer to the question.
Certain followings or faiths which claim to be religions that are prevalent today are, in actuality, forms of cults. Although most of the practices and elements common to cults are legal, they are, at best suspect. The following should constitute the line of tolerance society should not cross.
Firstly, what distinguishes cults from religions is the manner in which they operate. Cults are designed with a view of insulating the individual from the rest of society. Once a member of a cult, in most cases, the individual is removed of most (if not all) of their personal autonomy. Most decisions are made by the cult leader, access to the outside world is often denied and all information about the outside world is distorted by the leader. These types of operations should be intolerable by society.
Second, there should be no tolerance for religions that espouse any form of sacrifice, be it human or animal. Although historically, these practices were more or less prevalent and accepted, there certainly is no place for them in modern times. Lastly, there should be a limit of religious tolerance with regards to the manner in which some display their beliefs. Individuals in society should not be subject to any violence or restriction of freedom as a consequence of someone else's beliefs. There have been numerous illustrations of this in the past. Individuals have blocked abortion clinics, have participated in violent demonstrations concerning one issue or another, ad infinitum.
These types of religiously-fuelled practices have no place in and should not be tolerated in present day society. For some, the state has been seen to usurp the place of God on occasion. The fervent belief held by Jehovah's Witnesses, in essence, acts as the basis of their religious dissent. There have been certain areas of the law which historically have given rise to the conflict between the Canadian legal system and Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result of this conflict, a myriad of implications have arisen. On one extreme has been a state persecution of Witnesses. On the other extremes have been instances of law reform. A consideration of the Jehovah's Witnesses' bases of dissent will follow.
To begin, the First and Second World Wars saw the Witnesses as refusing to be drafted into military service. This area of dissent arose out of their pacifist doctrine. They refused to be involved in military service or in anything that could be tied in with the war effort. Next, Witnesses reject all practices which allude to isolation. Their firm belief that only Jehovah be worshipped has led them to refuse singing the national anthem and saluting the Canadian Flag. Anything to do with pledging allegiance to anything or anyone other than Jehovah is strictly intolerable.
As well, Witnesses have had objections to education. They believe that only parents have the right to teach faith to their children. Moreover, the Witnesses have had the view that religious education does nothing but serve to indoctrinate children into the Roman Catholic faith. These beliefs have led them to oppose religious education in schools and the celebration of such Christian holidays as Christmas and Easter. Lastly, their literal stance towards to Bible has contributed to the Witnesses' opposition of such modern medical procedures as blood transfusions. Although their position is based solely upon two verses in the Bible, it does nothing to detract them from their adamant views on the subject.
As can be demonstrated, the Jehovah's Witnesses' rigid stance on certain legal issues has allowed them to continue on as conscientious objectors. Many of their theological beliefs have contributed to numerous areas of dissent between themselves and the Canadian legal system.
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