Is forced Muslim religious education compatible with freedom of religion? We don’t tend to have court news quite this interesting (as far as religion goes) here in New Zealand.
I’m not commenting on this case because of the details that brought the parties to court, so let me quickly summarise what I think are the facts and then move on to what interests me.
The tenant is a Muslim woman. The landlord is a 73-year-old ordained pastor from Nigeria.
The tenant has had between 12 and 15 people staying in the rented apartment, which the landlord does not permit (or at least does not want, I don’t know if it’s contrary to the lease).
The tenant claims that the landlord has a history of shouting anti-Islamic abuse at her and that she pushed her, making her fall down some stairs.
The landlord denies treating the tenant this way, saying that the tenant had a vendetta against her because she wouldn’t let more people live in the apartment and because of her religion.
The judge found against the landlord, also noting that previous tenants have taken out prevention orders against her.
That brings us up to the part that I’m interested in. Here’s what the judge did:
He sentenced her to two years in jail on the assault and battery charge for pushing Suliman but required her to serve only six months, with the remaining 18 months suspended if she complied with certain probation conditions.
“I want you to learn about the Muslim faith,” he said. “I want you to enroll and attend an introductory course on Islam. I do want you to understand people of the Muslim faith, and they need to be respected. They may worship Allah … but they need to be respected.”
What comes first: religion or adverse social conditions?
I’ve heard it said a few times that there’s a correlation between religious societies in the modern West and social ills like crime and poverty. If we wanted to be really picky, the study that purported to show this (a study that has seen its fair share of criticism) actually showed that where the religious exist alongside the non-religious and where religion is construed in a particular way (a type of conservative religious outlook that included the rejection of evolutionary science), social ills were more prevalent. I’ve commented briefly on this before (See “Does Religious Faith make People More Moral?”).
When the alleged correlation was first brought to my attention in a radio discussion in 2010, I didn’t think much of it. There were probably a few ways the analysis could go. One possibility, I suggested, was that social ills like poverty could actually contribute to the religiosity of the people affected. But for some reason, every time I have heard the study referred to, it has only been in a context where somebody was trying to show that religion is bad for you.
Are religious people on the whole more likely to be mentally ill?
We live in a world where people form strong opinions (or rather, are happy to see their already strong opinions/biases reinforced) by browsing headlines. So when people see the (still fairly recent) headline, “Spiritual people are more likely to be mentally ill,” you can guess what prejudices will be reinforced. “Religion is a symptom of an unwell mind!” Or maybe “Religion is so crazy that it makes those who believe in it go mad!” Whatever the specifics, the point is, religion equals nutso.
Should religious people keep their divisive beliefs away from policies about marriage?
The green activists got up in arms about the introduction of genetically modified plants into the New Zealand market. But there is, as far as I can see, no widely lampooned caricature of people with environmental concerns as being socially divisive – in spite of those among their number who vandalised the farms of people suspected by them of having genetically modified crops. Large numbers of parents (the clear majority of those who voiced their opinion, in fact) raised their voices in protest when the government threatened to criminalise all use of any force in disciplining a child, while offering the benevolent promise that not all such criminals would be prosecuted (guess which way I lean on that). Parents were ignored and the law was changed, but more importantly here, nobody now thinks of parents as a uniquely divisive group within society. Many other people with common concerns or causes have likewise raised their voice in unison over other issues that concern them, but the fact that groups who do this in general do not get singled out as divisive or polarising is demonstrated by the way that just which groups spoke out over what issue is the kind of thing that tends to fade into obscurity in a relatively short time. But religion? Oh, that is different. Continue reading “The Same-Sex Marriage debate and religious divisiveness”→
Their mission statement is that they will “Support fairness and freedom in broadcasting through impartial complaints determination, effective research and informing stakeholders.” I don’t know why they call it supporting freedom – perhaps it sounds nice – but basically what they do is hear complaints about things that have been broadcast on television and radio and decide whether or not to uphold the complaint. Their functions are:
(a) To receive and determine complaints…
(c) To publicise its procedures in relation to complaints; and
(d) To issue to any or all broadcasters, advisory opinions relating to broadcasting standards and ethical conduct in broadcasting; and
(e) To encourage the development and observance by broadcasters of codes of broadcasting practice appropriate to the type of broadcasting undertaken by such broadcasters in relation to –
(i) The protection of children:
(ii) The portrayal of violence:
(iii) Fair and accurate programmes and procedures for correcting factual errors and redressing unfairness:
(iv) Safeguards against the portrayal of persons in programmes in a manner that encourages the denigration of, or the discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, race, age, disability or occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs:
(v) Restrictions on the promotion of liquor:
(vi) Presentation of appropriate warnings in respect of programmes that have been classified as suitable only for particular audiences:
(vii) The privacy of the individual
(h) To conduct research and publish findings on matters relating to standards in broadcasting.
Recently the BSA upheld a complaint about a TV show called 7 days, a show with a reputation for being a bit on the crass side. In short, there’s a show segment called “my kid could draw that,” where children (in a pre-recorded clip) present a drawing they have made of a recent news item, and show guests have to figure out what the news item is. I think that’s how it works, but the detail of that don’t matter now. A girl showed a picture of some men in a bunk, and it was then explained (after the guests failed to guess the news item) that the picture referred to a proposal – one that had gained some publicity – to double bunk inmates in prisons to save money. The girl explained that the picture read, “No money, plus a lot of prisoners, equals a lot of grossness up ahead.” You can guess the kind of humour that this might prompt, and sure enough a few wise cracks were then made by those taking part in the game about sexual antics between men in prisons.
The TV show was broadcast at 10pm and was preceded by a verbal warning that some content may offend. However, the Authority upheld part of the complaint on the grounds that this was sexually lewd material that was shown to be connected in some way to a drawing made by a specific child. Accordingly the show segment was deemed to have violated standards of decency and good taste. Read the decision here. Continue reading “The BSA, the ASA and “good taste””→
When I was at the University of Canterbury in July I gave two talks. Episode 29 was one of those talks, on abortion. This talk was actually based on the same material that served as the basis for episode 3, so there will be obvious similarities.
Think of this as a consolation prize while I (very slowly) finish the next episode in the series In Search of the Soul. Hey, if you want me to get these things done faster, then hire me. 🙂
Part 2 of a 2 part series on Religion in the Public Square.
For those interested, here’s the transcript for this episode, and here‘s the transcript for episode 2. Comments are welcome, and remember, if you’d like to email questions/comments/feedback for me to address in the show, feel free to use the contact button over on the right.