New Trends in Religious Freedom
Austria’s new right-wing Christian government has just shut down 7 mosques, is expelling scores of imams, and clamping down on Muslim immigrants (here). In 2015, Austria passed laws promoting “Islam of European character” while banning varieties they found objectionable. The reporter, Tara Burton, claims “Recent Pew polls have found that, increasingly, Christian identity in Western Europe has strong nationalist echoes; churchgoing Christians in most Western European countries tend to have more extreme anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant sentiments than their non-practicing or non-religiously affiliated counterparts.”
Austria is a Catholic country; it did not explicitly act in the name of “religious freedom.” That is a practice of Protestant zealots who claim to be exercising their religious freedom by restricting the rights of others, especially gays and the transgendered. Thus the marriage clerk who refused to issues a license to a gay couple, or the baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. A Christian company owner exercises his religious freedom by refusing to cover birth control in his health insurance. And let's not forget the fight against the day-after pill and abortion. In America, religious freedom no longer means the right to worship as you please; it means the right to act according to your religious beliefs, even if such acts violate others’ rights.
After Constantine made Christianity the favored religion of the Roman Empire, Christians quickly lost interest in religious freedom. Shortly thereafter Emperor Theodosius outlawed most non-Christian religious practices. This helped earn him the title of “the Great,” as well as sainthood (in the Eastern churches). Centuries later, the Church established a series of Inquisitions to enforce religious orthodoxy. Christians also launched far more religious wars than any other religion. The sainted Pope Pius IX, in his Syllabus of Errors, said it was a damnable error to espouse any religious beliefs other than those of the Catholic Church.
Old faith-based habits die hard.