Settlement Project President Speaks on Religious Freedom
On December 27, 2022, the Settlement Project President, Dr. Frank Kaufmann, spoke at the Universal Peace Federation sponsored event, The Voice of the Voiceless: Responsibility of the Media to Defend Religious Freedom. Dr. Kaufmann gave a brief presentation on Religious Illiteracy and Religious Freedom.
Mass communication media is given two great responsibilities. They are (1) to relentlessly fight for freedom of the press in places where it does not exist and (2) to demand the strictly ethical exercise of that freedom by their colleagues in places where it does exist. The International Media Association for Peace, as an open forum in which journalists and scholars can discuss issues freely, promotes the defense of human rights, of which the most foundational is freedom of religion.
Other speakers include Ms. Susanna Kaneer on “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a Church’s Campaign for its Application” and Mr. Luke Higuchi on “The Current Religious Freedom Crisis in Japan.”
Listen to Dr. Kaufmann’s speech here:
Watch the video here:
View the presentation here:
The Voice of the Voiceless: The Responsibility of the Media to Defend Religious Freedom
Ray Lipowcan: So, our first speaker today will be Dr. Frank Kaufman. Dr. Kaufman is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and president of Twelve Gates Foundation. He’s the editor in chief of New World Encyclopedia and online General Knowledge Encyclopedia providing accurate and reliable information. Dr. Kaufman’s work in the arena of religion and peace has involved him in interfaith and humanity missions, including extensive work in Israel and Palestine, Croatian refugee camps, the Eritrea Ethiopia border, Hindu Muslim conflict zones in India and Kashmir, revolutionary centers of Southern Philippines, the Gulf, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Again, this topic will be religious illiteracy and religious freedom. Welcome, dr. Kaufman.
Frank Kaufmann: Thank you. Thank you very much to the organizers. Congratulations for putting this together. Thank you for all the participants and guests who have logged in and are part of this.
I’ll keep introductory remarks and thanks to a minimum because I have a fair amount of content and I’m going to keep to the time. So the content touches very superficially on issues, all of which require far more extensive investigation. So, I will turn to a PowerPoint presentation and I’ll continue with my presentation from there.
Okay. Thank you. Here’s the conference’s name. Here’s me if people want to take a quick second to get my email address. If there’s anything I raise or for any reason, you want to reach me, I welcome anyone and everyone if I can be helpful ever. Also, the organizers can provide that for you.
The title of this meeting is called the Responsibility of the Media to Defend Religious Freedom. That means that we deal with three things religion, government and media. Obviously. And what are the interrelationships among these three power structures? All of these parts of living life in any society religious, government and media all wield the power of different sorts. And anything with power competes and ideally, healthy relationships.
So, from among these, the first one I’ll touch upon is religion and religious life. Religious freedom is technically the freedom that protects people’s rights to live, speak and act according to their beliefs peacefully and publicly. It is more than the mere freedom to worship at a synagogue, church or mosque. This is an important distinction to make and an important thing to recognize. Religious freedom cover is supposed to protect the entirety of a person’s life. I need not ever violate my religious beliefs, my conscience and my commitments, ever.
So, if I am a Catholic, if I function under religious freedom in society, I should never be forced to abort a baby and so on and so forth. So, it’s important to understand technically what religious freedom is. It’s very often misunderstood to just mean you’re allowed to think whatever you want or believe whatever you want or go wherever you want to church. This is not religious freedom. Religious freedom means that you do not ever have to go against your core values and beliefs in order to conform to the culture or government, in the United States. That right. And here’s an important element. It gives you the right to act to be religious. You must behave in a certain way. And so, the rights of religious freedom guarantee our rights for our behavior, our public behavior, that’s a very tenuous issue. And the government always has to measure these things. There’re certain actions that one could claim to be religious that would be problematic in civil society in the United States.
These rights that I just described are guaranteed by God himself herself. They are unalienable. They can never be taken away. They’re not given to us by the government. They don’t come from anywhere else other than the fact that human beings have a creator. And these rights are the same as the capacity to breathe. Remember that it’s protecting all of life more than just where you’re allowed to go to church and the guarantee is that it comes from our Creator.
It is not generously given to us by anyone or anything that’s in the United States. It derives from the preamble to the Declaration to the Bill of Rights. It’s the first right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees religious freedom, but in quite a different way.
Here are Article One and Article Two of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. We are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood. This is secular in its affirmation. There is no absolute authority out of which the rights of the Declaration of Human Rights derive. It’s entirely voluntary, and it can change with my capacity to reason what I feel is in my conscience. It’s entirely different from the United States Bill of Rights. If you look at where people say that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms religious freedom, look at it. It’s just in the mix of any other and all other things that you might possibly be. You might be of a particular race; you might be of a particular color or sex or language or political or opinion or national or social origin or et cetera. And one of the things you might also have is religion. And these rights are also guaranteed to you. It derives out of a secular mindset. So, with this, it’s important to note the difference between what freedom of religion means in the United States and what freedom of religion means for all other countries unless they have declarations that are positively affirmative of tying at two religious’ origins per se. It’s a very important distinction.
United Nations is a secular organization. The guaranteed freedom of religion comes from secular premises. The United States was founded on religious principles. It describes our rights as being derived from a Creator. So religious rights compete with other rights and laws in society. That means that the nature of the society and the intensity of its dedication to religion is crucial in order to understand how likely religious freedom is going to be protected.
Presently, Japan is heavily under attack. It’s definitely a freedom of religious issue. But religious freedom differs from country to country. Its only religious freedom rights are the declaration of the country to be, to adhere to or abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And as you saw in my previous slide, that declaration is secular in origin, and secular in its guarantee. And so, when we concern ourselves with things like the intense religious persecution of a minority community in Japan, namely the unification group, and I don’t know if there are others on the call who are in similar situations, we need to know the extent to which precisely what freedom of religion means in the Japanese constitution and its rights.
The next thing to look at is the government or the state. The government is the only entity that can either protect or deprive religious freedom. It’s the only thing that can do so. You can have cultures that make it hard to have religious freedom, but the state is under the force of its legislation, and that’s where the freedom of religion can be curtailed or it can be guaranteed. So that being the case, again, it’s very important to notice that the state will protect the rights of any minority group. It will protect all citizen’s rights, but will never do so at the expense of the ideals and responsibilities of the states. So, the rights of religious freedom compete with other rights. If I live across the street from a park, if my religion obligated me to sacrifice goats at a given time in the lunar calendar, I could not do this in the park across the street. Even though it’s a religious act and it’s guaranteed as my religious freedom, it competes with other rights and laws. And so, the state’s interpretation of religious rights is always in competition with all other rights.
That’s part of the problem we’re experiencing in Japan. The state might say every person has a right not to be disturbed after 08:00 p.m. And it’s just the way they run their government. And that’s in conflict with certain religious rights. If you want to go visit someone or have a have meeting after eight. And so it’s not a technicality, it’s an art. And it’s in constant flux. In the United States, it’s strongest, it’s ironclad, it’s tied to our constitution. But in other places, it’s more tenuous. And even in the US now, it starts to come under serious threat. Religious freedom. Serious, serious threat. Part of it is to try to move legislation in such a way that those rights are made more explicitly to compete with the rights of other communities.
So, in recent years, especially since the early 90s, there’s the rise of this doctrine of hate crimes, hate speech, and in our present time, speech as harmful and speech as violent. So now if a preacher, if a preacher in the church says that no one in my community should ever consider a gay marriage or homosexual marriage, that person might be accused of violence. If there’s legislation which adopts this doctrine of speech as harmful or speech as violent and so religious rights, now, the right of religious freedom is under serious threat because it competes with other laws of the land.
Here’s an example of something I just picked out of the blue because it’s in today’s news. Rachel Levine? Is anybody familiar with Rachel Levine? Are people familiar with Rachel Levine? This is one of President Biden’s appointees. I forget exactly her. She’s only recently in her role in the US. Government affairs she’s demanding that tech companies censor, gender related, quote unquote misinformation. Some people call gender affirming care the following chemical castration sterilization and physical mutilation of children and young adults. If the laws of the land and this might be a simple description based on one’s religious understanding of the nature of gender and sex at birth, the nature of being born as one of God’s creatures, if the laws make it such that that is called incitement of violence, it becomes up to the government to decide whether it can guarantee religious freedom. These are the types of problems we face. It’s not simply something we can just yell and scream about and insist on. It has to do with the capacity to retain religion in our society.
What is the role of media? That’s the third element or third power point of power that I mentioned. Ideally, media has grotesquely degenerated in America more than elsewhere but in the world at large. But ideally, the media has a couple of iron rules. It should be committed to the truth first and above all and completely. It should be independent. It should not be a proverb. It should not be at the surface of a power center. It should be unbiased. It should get all views and present all views and write accurately. It should not be cruel. It should have humanness. It shouldn’t have empathy for the subjects it covers and it should be accountable. That’s why you see retractions in newspapers and so forth. That’s the role of media. It has no other job. It has no other job than these five things and it’s ideal. And media today is nowhere near behaving with this idea. Which part of these five things do we find the obligation to defend religious freedom? It’s not there. It’s simply not there, except maybe humanness. But there is an obligation of media, and that is this, that its job is to make sure that those in power do not abuse their power. Media exists to protect the powerless from the abuses of the powerful. That’s where if a religious minority or religious community is being persecuted by the government or by agents in culture, then the media can expose whenever the power powerful are exceeding their role in their status, only when they’re exceeding their role in their status. But if agents who are hostile to religion successfully diminish the strength of religion to exert its rights and start to have the rights of transgender people as more important than the rights of religious people, the media will not have either the capacity or the structure or the orientation to protect religious freedom. It’s not an arbiter of who’s higher or lower.
What it is an arbiter of if the government is using power in excess of the laws of the land. That’s the role of media. I conclude here. I think I’ve kind of stayed on time. Here’s my conclusion. Society and culture must recognize and understand that religion is indispensable for a free democracy. If this declines as religion competes with other rights, it will lose the protection of the state.
Secondly, once religion declines in a culture, every person who’s driving culture, including the media, becomes ignorant religiously. That means media doesn’t even know what they’re looking at. They don’t know what religion is. None of them are religious. They’ve never been to church. They don’t know how that feels. That’s exaggerating. There’s a lot of very religious journalists. But what I’m saying is that when religion goes away, like it has in the US. And in the free world. If religious people don’t have a way to keep in the forefront how vital religious conscience and religious life and religious practice is, it will lose its protection. And our worry about what the media does will be far secondary. The government will already consider it proper to deprive people of conscience and religious acts. Finally, the third and final thing I’ll say, and if I’ve gone over, I apologize and thank you for a little extra time if I took it.
The interreligious mentality is crucial in a time when religion is declining because the protection of religion must be the protection of all religions. Religions must stand together. There’s that famous quote, they came for the Jews, and I said nothing. We must have every one of each other’s backs. We must love one another more than we love the confidence and truth in our own community. We’re protecting religion per se. And so, these are my concerns. These are my warnings.
I don’t think that getting into a big argument with the media is especially in our interest. I think our more important mission is to make sure that our land does not become a religious wasteland. It’s an important work of ours. Okay, thank you very much for the time, and thank you for the opportunity to be with you this afternoon.
Ray Lipowcan: Thank you so much. Dr. Kaufman. Yes. So many points that you brought up. I think we could have probably a whole webinar seminar on so many of those points. And if I may just highlight a couple of things that you mentioned.
You mentioned about actually yes, defining religious freedom is endowed by our Creator and not having to conform to the mandates of the government and others. And then one point you brought up about differentiating between freedom of religion in different countries in the United States, like you said, it is a religious nation, but the rules and bylaws of the United Nations are set up as a secular organization. So, this makes it really difficult then to interpret. When we go to over 150 years, 200 countries trying to interpret everybody’s regulations on religious freedom, we can see how complex of a situation this is. So, thank you so much for your presentation. Thank you.