The concept of religious liberty is at the core of global attention in recent times in the light of religious extremities in different aspects of national existence. The subject of religious liberty is a particularly touchy and sensitive issue as it evokes passion, devotion and unbridled allegiance amongst adherents of various religious beliefs. Although an aspect of the broad concept of human liberties and equality, it is a subject which commands special attention as religious tenets play a vital role in defining certain liberties and equalities in various societies.
Gender inequality for instance is an integral part of certain religious beliefs which subjugate females to less commanding roles subservient to men. Furthermore, sexual liberties and equality especially as it relates to homosexuality and transgender is a forbidden concept in most religious tenets, thus restricting liberties and equality of sexual minorities. Religion therefore occupies a special place in any discourse on liberties and equalities in view of its vital role in defining liberties and equalities in several societies in the world.
The ‘special’ nature of religion is further entrenched in some national jurisdictions which elevate religious beliefs and tenets to state policies in accordance with which laws and regulations are made. Such non-secular states, mostly in the Arab world such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, take religious beliefs to an elevated platform by making religious tenets the fulcrum on which the state is governed. On the other extreme lie national jurisdictions, mostly in the western hemisphere, where religious tenets and beliefs play no role in state policies and are not given any form of state recognition in promulgation of policies and regulations.
Quite apart from these two extremities, there are several national jurisdictions adopting the medium position, mostly in Africa and other third world nations, where religious tenets are given state recognition although not elevated to the platform of forming the basis for state policies as in most Arab world. In such jurisdictions, religious beliefs nevertheless shape public opinion and influence state policies to varying degrees. For instance, the trend towards criminalization of homosexuality in most African countries is predicated on the prohibition of such sexual orientation and practice by Christianity and Islamic religions.
Regardless of which ideology a state adopts, a common issue which arises is the protection of religious liberty of the people of the state. Religious liberty simply means the freedom of citizens to practice their chosen religion without fear, harassment, or suppression either by virtue of state policy or as a result of religious intolerance by fellow citizens or groups. Religious intolerance is a constant problem in most countries of the world today as adherents of various religious beliefs attempt to suppress adherents of other religious under the misguided belief of the superiority of...