Government Restrictions on Religion

In my religion and politics class, I have recently come across a statistic in my textbook that concerns the public’s view of the government and the relationships between church and state.  Apparently in 2007, the same number of people that approved of the FBI to keep a watch on cults (nearly 57% of the population) were similar to the number of people that wished restrictions on Krishnas and satanists.  The first thing I thought was “okay, why Krishnas and Satanists specifically?”  Why not Wiccans or Scientologists?  Those groups are so different from one another on a religious spectrum.  Then I took another look and saw the wish to restrict satanists was actually lower than Krishnas (maybe 3% lower).  By this viewpoint, it sounds like American’s have more issues with Krishnas than Satanists which blows my mind.

I am no expert on either religion, but Krishnas do not strike me a particularly dangerous and Satanists are more Atheistic.  If you go to their respective religious homepages  iskcon.org and churchofsatan.com, you can see that they are not inherently evil religions, yet they receive a bad reputation as cults perhaps due to the fact that they are minority religions in the U.S.  People seem to think that Krishnas are trying to brainwash others to join their religion through their literature.  I think it’s true that they are an evangelical religion and like other evangelicals of other faiths, they enthusiastically want to share their faith with others because it holds a truth that has improved their own lives.  Satanists are a little different because they don’t really reveal themselves in the public eye like the Krishnas do and therefore are more mysterious and likewise potentially dangerous to the majority religions.

Perhaps the statistic I saw only used Krishnas and Satanists as an example of the relationship of the inherent mistrust that larger, well accepted religions feel about smaller obscure ones.  Take Catholicism for example.  Even though the Catholic church was the original form of Christianity which all other denominations stem from, Catholics were largely regarded early on in America and even to today as a cult and called “Mary-worshippers”.  The first amendment of the constitution obviously states free speech but also freedom of religion.  In the free-exercise clause it clearly states that the government will not prohibit one from practicing the faith one possesses.  If the government did this, it would be favoring a specific religion, and make them hypocrites, liars, and an un-reliable system of democracy (regardless that they may be already).  The free-exercise clause ensures that minorities have a chance to participate and actually survive in this nation.  Going back to the statistic, if more than 50% of the population wants restrictions on these groups, regardless of the ideas of whether or not they may be cults, how is that not the government favoring certain kinds of religions over others.  It sounds like a violation of the free-exercise clause.  If you put a restriction on a religion, ANY religion for that matter,  is it really freedom of religion or free speech at that point?

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