According to a recent declaration on Christian principles, if a person were to stand up in a crowded room, shout "Allah Akbar", and start shooting everybody present, it would be a violation of his religious liberty to duck and cover and head for the door, or to shoot the person who is doing the shooting.
A group of Christians have released a proclamation that they have titled the "Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience" in which they talk about a number of moral concerns regarding life and death (abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research), marriage (homosexual marriage), and religious liberty.
I have no doubt that the authors of the text would protest the above account. However, their discussion on religious liberty leave this as a logical implication of the principles they put forward.
No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.
What the shooter in this example is doing is expressing freely and publicly his deeply held religious convictions. Apparently, according to this declaration, he has a right to do so. To say that somebody has a right is to say that others have a duty to interfere. Clearly, when the authors of this declaration argue for a right to religious liberty, they are arguing for a duty on our part not to interfere with them. A direct application of this principle to the example of the shooter implies that we would be morally prohibited from taking any action that would interfere with the shooter's interest in expressing his most deeply held religious sentiments.
Clearly, the authors of this declaration would not declare that the shooter has such a right. However, this leaves them with a choice. If they are going to deny that such rights exist, then they need to alter their principles accordingly. Sometimes it is permissible to interfere with somebody else's expressions of deeply held religious convictions.
In this declaration, the authors state that Christian doctrine requires that they obey the law and to engage in civil disobedience when the law is unjust. However, this is a Christian doctrine. To impose this doctrine on others would, it seems, be a violation of the prohibition on "worshiping God according to the dictates of conscience." So, even though a Christian who would sign this declaration may not be an advocate of the use of this type of violence, the declaration gives moral sanction and permission to those who would.
Should a person whose conscience permits such violence be prohibited from worshipping God according to those dictates? If the answer is "sometimes yes", then the prohibition can clearly sometimes be violated.
One of the great advantages of having an inconsistent and inherent moral philosophy is that the agent gets to appeal to that half of the contradiction that is most useful at the moment in justifying their actions. If a health care provider wishes the liberty to refuse to provide abortion services to somebody who may want an abortion, prohibiting them from refusing is a violation of their religious liberty. If a homosexual couple wishes to get married according to the dictates of their conscience, apparently, then it is the religious liberty of the Christian signers of this document to prohibit such unions that is at stake.
For some reason the authors of this doctrine have adopted a set of principles in which they get all of the liberty, while everybody else gets all of the burdens. Yet, they claim that this self-contraditory and self-service doctrine does not come from man (specifically, not from the brains of the authors guided by their own convenience), but from God.
This is not an argument, which I have been protesting against in the past week, that says that religious moderates are to be condemned for the wrongs of religious extremists. This is an argument that looks at a specific declaration that has been set forward and shows the logical implications of that declaration. It is no different than raising objections to act utilitarianism on the grounds that it would authorize a doctor to kill a healthy patient to use his organs to save five patients who would otherwise die.
I assign my criticism only to the argument itself, and to those who endorse this argument – specifically its signers, but also any who would endorse the principles even without signing.
The principles in this policy ultimately implies that there is no limit on what a person may do, since any opposition or interference would, on these principles, violate the agent's right to "express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions."
That is exactly what the 9/11 hijackers were doing . . . expressing freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.
That is exactly what the terrorist who detonates a nuclear weapon in Washington DC would be doing . . . expressing feely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.
Certainly there must be religious convictions that people must not be permitted to express freely and publicly. Yet, the Manhattan Declaration gives us no such limit.
There is a reason why the Declaration does not give us any limit. This is because it is not actually a doctrine of religious liberty. It is a recipe for religious tyranny. It was written by people who, in the first two sections of the paper, wish to impose their religious beliefs on others even to the point of doing great harm to the interests of people who do not share their religion. It is quite certain that people with those types of values are not going to want to declare that there are limits in the harms that religious people may impose on others.
Instead, they are going to cap their declaration of religious tyranny with a set of principles that say that "We support religious liberty. This means that we have the liberty to do whatever pleases us and the rest of you have an obligation to submit."
No, I did not forget that they are not actually speaking about a right to "do whatever pleases us". They have a right to worship God according to their own conscience. Yet, there is no God. Nobody gets any moral law from God. Instead, people assign their own wishes and desires to God, and they do so according to their own pleasure. So, while they declare, believe, and certainly wish us to believe that they are acting on a higher moral value. They are, in fact, acting according to their own pleasure and using God in an attempt to justify the harms that they would have others suffer.
That is certainly what we find here. We find a declaration written by people who would be pleased with the liberty to impose their values on others without regard to the people made to suffer. To give their actions legitimacy they tell us that they are not actually acting according to their own pleasure. Instead:
The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ.
In other words, it is God that grants them to do these harms. These are not being inflicted at the pleasure of those who created the Declaration. They are God's will. So, they must be legitimate. And we have an obligation to "religious liberty" to allow them to inflict those harms it pleases them to inflict.
It is a very convenient theory.