Of all the senstive issues which determine the success of a relationship between a government and its subjects, religion remains one of the most pertinent. These issues are enhanced in a multicultural age, as several diametrically opposed faiths and cultures subsist within a single society. Governments are therefore faced with the increasingly difficult task of finding an acute equilbrium between serving the practical needs of society and satisfying religious requirements, and there have been notable examples of conflicts emerging from particular instances.
What many faiths and bodies fail to understand are the pressures that face a government in a democratic society. Recently, a school in Michigan was forced to make a judgement concerning a Sikh student who wished to wear the kirpan, which is a small religious dagger that represents a traditional commitment to fight evil. A ban was placed on these items being worn in December due to the items being considered as potential weapons, but this was overturned after being deemed unneceesary and unconstitutional.
Against the Principles of America
The concept of religious symbols and affiliated wear is a good place to start on this issue, as there are vastly different approaches throughout western culture to regulating their usage. Governing bodies in France and similar western european countries have reacted to increasing religious uncertaintly by imposing a widespread ban on the wearing of religious garments in schools and public auditoriums, in an attempt to difuse tensions and public displays of affiliation. Similarly, a UK air stewardess was sacked for refusing to remove her crucifix during service, after the airline recieved complaints from various passengers and acted upon them.
In contrast, the US have largely fought to resist these extreme and potential divisive reactions to religious diversity. The act of restricting the freedom of expression and the right to follow a particular faith is unconstiutional at its very core, and various regimes have sought to maintain the rights of people to practice their religion. By doing so, the US are not only seeking to protecting their own citizens, but also preserve the democratic principles that define them as a civilized and forward thinking country.
The importance of this should not be underestimated. In an age where more and more regimes cower to terrorism and react to religious intolerance by attempting to eradicate it from public perception, it is significant that some stand is made to protect the right of peaceful religious followers. Wearing a religious symbol is the basic right of anyone who has a particular beleif system, and this should not be endangered by cowardly acts of religious violence or an impulsive reaction to small minded contentions.
Accepting Diversity for the Sake of Multiculturalism
Aside from the interests of religious followers and independent faiths, there is a wider picture that envelops the freedom of expression. This is the concept of multiculturalsim, which civilized society is required to embrace in order to create a peaceful and harmonious world, and is an ideal that is widely discussed as beneficial in western culture. However, particluar acts that pertain to the restriction of religious symolism and practice are entirely opposed to this concept, and serve only to create a world of more angst and increasing intolerance.
Unfortunately, many governments believe that by removing religious symbolism they are creating a more equal and less corrosive environment. This could not be further from the truth, as they are actually denying individuals the right to express their view and potentially creating resentment and hostility towards their establishment. Not only this, but it questions peoples own identity and creates the impression that there is something inherently wrong and ill judged about adopting a particular religious faith or belief system.
Protecting the Freedom of Choice and Speech
If multiculturalism is the ultimate evocation of cultural intergration and freedom of expression in a society, then it can be achieved and maintained by a liberal attitude to all bodies of faith. It is not something that can be attained through half measures or impulsive reactions, and nor can it be sustained by simply intergrating people with diverse backgrounds in a single place at a single time. It is an aspiration more than a logisitcal manouvre, and requires an inherent understanding and acceptance between independent religious notions.
To this end, the US government are one of the more forward thinking and progressive in the western world, and are continuing to strike a balance between satisfying the religious beliefs and functional requirements of their people. It is through the application of these tolerant and fair minded values that a successful intergration of cultures can be achieved, as these principles allow for different religions and cultures to exist together without the need for authoritarian restrictions or ill conceived regulations.