The definition of the term “religious discrimination” is contested, but for the purposes of this discussion religious discrimination is defined as restrictions on the religious practices or institutions of minority religions that are not placed on the majority religion. Religious discrimination can include restrictions on (a) religious practices, (b) religious institutions and clergy, (c) conversion and proselytizing, and (d) other types of discrimination. Globally, 88.5% of countries discriminate against at least one religious minority, and religious discrimination is becoming more common over time. Religious discrimination is the norm worldwide regardless of world region, government type, and majority religion. Motivations to discriminate are multiple and complex. They include (a) differences in religious ideologies and beliefs—many religions are ideologically intolerant of other religions; (b) religious organizations seeking an institutional monopoly in a country; (c) religious beliefs and practices running counter to liberal and secular values, including human rights; (d) countries seeking to protect their national culture from outside influences, including nonindigenous religions; (e) countries having anti-cult policies; (f) countries restricting minority religious practices that are considered objectionable to the national ideology or culture; (g) a historical conflict between minority groups and the majority; (h) the perception of minorities as a security threat; (i) the perception of minorities as a political threat ; (j) long-lasting historical tensions between the majority and minority; (k) national politicians mobilizing supporters along religious lines; (l) societal prejudices against minorities leading to government-based discrimination; (m) religious identity; (n) general discrimination that is also applicable to religious minorities. Although these are among the most common motivations for discrimination, in many cases the motivations are unique to the specific situation.
Kristina M. Teater and Laura Dudley Jenkins
Freedom of religion is a constitutional right in India, but this religiously diverse democracy regulates religion in several ways, including enforcing religious personal laws, regulating religious minority educational institutions, monitoring conversions, limiting religious appeals during political campaigns, and outlawing acts that outrage religious feelings. The 42nd constitutional amendment in 1976 added the word “secular” to the Indian constitution, which provides a distinctive model of religion-state relations and regulation that is rooted in historical struggles with colonial rule and abundant religious diversity. The “personal law” system grants major religious communities distinct family laws. Religious minorities have regulated autonomy in the sphere of education based on constitutional commitments to minority colleges and educational institutions. The religious freedom clause in the Indian constitution is one of the most comprehensive in the world, yet several state-level “freedom of religion” acts prohibit “forcible” or “induced” conversions. Affirmative action or “reservation” policies also necessitate regulating conversions, as low castes lose their eligibility upon conversion to Islam or Christianity. Appealing for votes on the basis of religion or caste is a “corrupt practice.” A colonial-era statute continues to outlaw “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Constitutional and state regulations of cow slaughter also protect the religious beliefs of some Hindus. Whether defending “religious freedom” by limiting conversions, or criminalizing insults to religious beliefs, laws in India to “protect” religions and religious persons at times threaten the practice and expression of diverse religious perspectives.
There are many versions of liberalism, but it would be uncontroversial to say that they agree in placing a premium on individual liberty. As a political paradigm, liberalism is committed to protecting the freedom of persons to live and think as they choose without interference from the state, provided they do no harm to others. This fundamental commitment underlies the classical liberal arguments for religious liberty and toleration articulated by John Locke and J. S. Mill. It forms the basis for legal provisions guaranteeing freedom of religious belief, worship, and expression in liberal democratic nations, as well as the principle of non-establishment, which prohibits the state from favoring any religion or from favoring religion over nonbelief. The formulation of these two principles, religious freedom and nonestablishment, requires that the spheres of the secular and the sacred be distinguished in order to institute a particular relation between them. Questions have been raised about the validity and universality of this distinction, as well as its implications for the place of religion within political life. In contemporary political theory, the topic of public reason has been especially prominent, the point of contention being whether and how religious discourse may be allowed in political reasoning. Balancing religious freedom against other fundamental liberal rights poses another difficulty in cases where the beliefs and practices of religious individuals and communities come into conflict with general laws or compromise equality, another central liberal value. Sometimes social and political judgments about such cases seem to apply a double standard to the religious practices of certain minorities, moreover, and to reflect an element of cultural racism. This is arguably true of attitudes and decisions in Western countries regarding the hijab and other types of veils worn by Muslim women. Applying liberal principles for regulating religion in a fashion that is genuinely neutral and impartial remains a challenge. Indeed, some argue that there is no way of defining “religion” for the requisite purposes without privileging certain forms of it. If so, liberal efforts to protect religious freedom may end up enforcing varieties of religious establishment.