Considering Religious Beliefs And Freedom Of Expression

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Whether you believe in something or not, the idea of religion has probably crossed your mind. Some people see it as a way to make sense of the world around us and some see it as way of life. the idea that a higher power, something bigger than ourselves could possibly be out there, has always made us wonder. An omniscient, omnipotent God of some sort that you choose to believe in? Or you don’t believe at all. (Good Morning Ms. Steele and my fellow peers) Today I'm going to explore religion in its most potent form in our lives apart from its respective church, the government. The first thing I will be talking about is religion in the government in countries who are religiously governed. I will be exploring both sides of the religious influence in schools, in politics, and freedom of belief and looking at how it may benefit or hurt the government.

Religious influence in schools can have many positive effects on the students. While there are many opinions about if religion should be integrated into education for varies reasons, religion in schools influences educational performance and attainment in all areas of school. This is because the commonality of beliefs builds a social neighborhood for students to thrive together and reduces youth’s risks. Religious schools have a long-term positive effect on teenagers who have a religious background, especially in high school, and especially if students receive some classroom instruction in religion. In fact, The National Survey of Youth proves that students who practiced religion weekly were more academically inclined and educationally driven. The same survey found that students that practiced religion weekly had higher grade point averages than those who never practiced religion in high school. Another source called the National Survey of Children's Health, revealed that children who practiced religion more often, were less likely to have their parents contacted due to behaviour problems. Therefore, religious influence in schools could help increase the quality of education for a student and their drive to learn and overall help them become a more well-rounded teenager who knows their values and principals. Another sector of government that could be affected by religious influence in a religiously governed country, is politics.

The idea of the affairs of church and state being separate has been a very controversial topic especially in the western world. Combining politics and religion has always seemed to spark controversial debates such as abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage which, depending on which faith, has very different views on this topic. Seeing that this is the case, religion can heavily influence which party a person votes for, and even campaigns for. This is because if a certain politician’s views align heavily with the views of a certain religious group, they are most likely to receive many supporters from that group. An example of this is the republican party in the U.S.A that bases itself on a religious platform. A more specific example is George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election when he won over candidate John Kerry, in what was seen as more of a religious battle because the main topics of the election focused on things such as abortion and gay rights. Even though there were more pressing issues such as war in Iraq, these moral issues were enough to encourage the right conservative religious citizen to vote republican resulting in a win for President Bush. This is important because it shows how in a country like the United States where the people are not governed under a religion but there is still a lot of religious presence in the country.

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Lastly, I want to discuss religious freedom in a religiously governed country. Religious freedom is something that is stressed in many communities around the world, even in countries with a governing religion. Although throughout history, we have seen theocracies where only one Holy figure was to be praised and if not, it could result in serious punishment. We see laws like this today even in the modern world where religious freedom is not always deemed a right for every citizen. More than 61% of the world’s population live in countries where religious freedom is not respected according to a report by Aid to the Church in Need. For example, the Pakistani constitution guarantees freedom of religion for individuals but certain laws called blasphemy laws, restrict the right of freedom of speech in regard to your religion if it doesn’t praise the name of Allah. Meaning you would pay with your life if you publically oppose their governing religion. In fact, there have been cases where public figures have been persecuted for speaking out against these laws. For example, Shahbaz Bhatti, The Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs was killed in March of 2011 for his lifelong stand against these laws. It’s gotten to a point where foreign forms of media coming into the country are censored due to religious content. This means that in countries with a governing religion, religious freedom might not be held to the same standards as countries who practice religious freedom in the western world and this could be seen as more of a backward way of thinking because of the extreme punishment that comes from simply expressing your faith publicly something that most people see as a right. There is another side to these arguments though therefore I will be looking at religious influence in non-religiously governed countries in comparison. Firstly, let’s look at the other side to having a religious community in public schools.

It creates separation and misrepresents the notion that school is for everyone. This is because public schools are funded by the people, through their taxes. It is arguable that a space paid for by the public should be and open space where all beliefs should be accepted and be able to be practiced instead of having one dominating religion. You should not have to be forced to fund religious education with your taxes if you do not feel comfortable with your child being integrated into a religious community.

Another reason is because religious influence in schools causes contradicting education. There are certain topics that are taught in schools that cause conflict in the classroom. For Example, in the religion of Christianity, it is believed that God created the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1:1) and this statement made in the bible contradicts the traditional teaching of the Big Bang Theorem taught in schools. This simply would cause conflict and confusion in the classroom especially in subjects such as science and history that differ in substance when religion is added. Therefore, religion can definitely aid in the overall quality of education, but it can confuse things for students who don’t necessarily share the same beliefs and are looking for public education. Schools with no religious bias or influence allow students to feel like they could belong in a community without organizing separation by adding religious aspects to school life to the curriculum.

Religion in politics is a recipe for separation. There will always be two sides to a political argument and most likely one will lean towards a more religious perspective. Religion especially in American politics has always been used as a tool to get a group of people to support your campaign by voicing your opinions backed up your religious beliefs and some say this have historically been proven to be the best way to run you campaign but you can win without religious bias in politics. For example, Thomas Jefferson who was the third president of the United States. He was forced to battle his way into office because of his opposing thoughts about religion in politics. Yet he won office by changing the theme of the election from focusing on his personal beliefs to campaign for religious freedom as a whole. In fact, less and less people in America, see religion as something Important in their lives. In 1960’s 78% agreed but by 2010, that number dropped to about 58%. This is relevant because there is evidence that the world is changing and become a more open space especially politically. Fifty years ago, people found identity through their family, church and neighborhood and didn’t identify themselves with anything else that they were not used to or that did not align with their values. Today these identities have weakened says Simon Kuper of the Financial times. This is very evident in our society therefore a politician or politics as a whole will not be held back by the standards of the past.

Finally, I would like to discuss religious freedom in a non-religiously governed country. Religious Freedom in countries that do not have a governing religion is something that is simply expected nowadays. As we move into the future, we are more focused on the rights of people around the world and equality for all. Therefore, countries who do not have a governing religion work hard to make this clear for its people and usually have it as a constitutional right and unlike Pakistan, these countries support freedom of expression of your religion. For example, in Canada, freedom of religion is a constitutionally protected right which allow believers to freely worship without interference. Which includes religious speech. This is relevant because unlike a religiously governed nation Canada is able to have total freedom of religion because there are no laws set by any religion to be carried out by the government which allows for a more democratic form of government including freedom of expression. This is a good because it allows nations to continue to develop instead of being held back by laws and values upheld many years ago that do not relate to the worlds narrative today.

To wrap up, religion in government has many positive sides to it and many negative it brings people together and it separates them. After exploring both sides of the religious influence in schools, in politics, and freedom of belief and looking at how it may benefit or hurt the government. I can come to the conclusion that religion in government is a topic that differs between time, place and space. It’s something that can benefit countries or slow countries down in terms of development. There is no definite answer to whether a government is more effective with or without religion. There too many different religions and different countries arounds the world to come to that conclusion.

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