Too much state

The state’s tendency to over manage religion and suppress religious minorities cuts across all religions.  A story in today’s New York Times documents the suppression of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s Buddhist-controlled state.  A passage:

The refugees fleeing Myanmar, from the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority, have been persecuted for decades. They have been evicted from their homes and kicked off their land, and attacked by the military and by Buddhist extremists in Rakhine, the western coastal state where they live. Their voting rights were effectively revoked in February. Their government insists that they are in the country illegally, and most neighboring countries refuse to accept them.

In effect, they are stateless.

President Thein Sein denies that the Rohingya, with a population estimated at 800,000 or more, exist as an ethnic group, and he refers to them as Bengalis, suggesting that they are from Bangladesh and therefore subject to deportation.

Then comes an impassioned plea from Zambia for the state not to declare Zambia a Christian country.  Lessons learned in the West (though not adequately enough) come into play:

It is important for national leaders to guard against the imposition of any particular religion on the entire society. The Republican constitution particularly should be a neutral document that should not discriminate against atheists, agnostics or pagans, or those who believe in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Jainism, or the Baha’i faith.

In the long run, the Declaration is likely to make non-Christian citizens to feel that they are second-class citizens. And, as Prof. Venkatesh Seshamani has argued, a feeling of religious superiority is likely to develop among Christians by virtue of their religion having been accorded constitutional status, which may lead to bigotry that would prompt them to view non-Christians as lost souls.

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Daniel Philpott

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.