Heaven’s Gate and the Infringement of Religious Freedoms
How much religious freedom do we want? The United States Constitution guarantees religious freedom to all citizens. However, since the establishment of this freedom, there have been continuous debates and modifications. Despite this independence, there have been times when the government felt it necessary to infringe upon religious freedom for various reasons. The question is, at which point it is okay for the government to become involved in religious affairs for the sake of safety and protection?
The Heaven’s Gate religious group is one group in particular that has aroused much controversy in terms of the extent of religious freedom. In 1997, members of this group partook in an infamous mass suicide, claiming thirty-nine lives. There has been an extensive debate as to whether or not the government should have intervened in this group’s practice due to the violence and danger that it obviously posed to its members. However, through the acknowledgment of personal prejudices, an evaluation of coercion, the breadth of violence, legalities, and ethics revolving around this group’s violence, it can be concluded that government involvement in the religious practice of Heaven’s Gate would have been an inappropriate limitation of religious freedom. It would have been legally and morally unjust for the government to prevent the believers of Heaven’s Gate from making independent decisions.
The Heaven’s Gate religious group was started by Marshall H. Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles in the United States in 1972. These two individuals met each other and believed that they were the two witnesses mentioned in the Bible who preceded the end of time. They believed they were from the “next level” or Heaven and it was their job to prepare others for their journeys into the next level. This group melded Christian teachings as well as New Age influences into their practice. Applewhite and Nettles went by many names and were often called “The Two”. The Two dropped out of society so to speak in order to prepare for their transition which they believed would come in the form of a mother ship or UFO coming to Earth to pick them up and bring them to the next level. Slowly, as Ti and Do traveled the United States with their apocalyptic message they gained followers. Meetings were held, websites were made, videos were filmed, and books were written all to share the message that everyone must prepare to journey onto the next level and Earth would soon be “recycled” and wiped clean. In order to properly prepare for their transition onto the next level Heaven’s Gate believers strongly held that they must abandon all earthly ties, including their bodies. In 1997, thirty-nine Heaven’s Gate followers were found dead after they apparently willingly ingested large amounts of painkillers and vodka in order to abandon their earthly lives and move onto the next level. The group...