Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Affairs (and the only Christian minister in the Pakistani Cabinet), was assassinated last week for his condemnation of the country’s anti-blasphemy law, which sanctions death for those who speak against Islam. This tragic event took place in the aftermath of another assassination of a public official, Salman Taseer, former governor of Punjab, who wanted that law repealed.
In a Letter to the Editor of the WP, Sameena Ahmed, responding to Mr. Bhatti’s assassination, wrote
The killing of PakistanMinoritiesMinister Shahbaz Bhatti by extremists [news story, March 3] is a loss for those of all faiths and countries, not just for Pakistan’s Christians and those trying to change Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Frequently, fear is used by those who wish to silence others, because they cannot win others over with reason, facts or logic.
Muslims everywhere, as well as all believers in peace and tolerance, must speak up against this crime and others like it — even if a perpetrator belongs to one’s “own group.” We must support and defend acts of peace and tolerance for all; otherwise one day it’s possible that your own group or cause will be violently targeted, too— an all-too-often-forgotten principle. -- Sameena Ahmed, Potomac Falls
While her call for Muslims everywhere to speak up against this crime is commendable, her argument for religious liberty as a group right is only half right. Religious liberty is an individual right, exercised intimately by a person based on the dictates of his or her conscience. It is a right that he can freely exercise even outside of and despite his ethnic affiliations. It is a right that is guaranteed by the principle of separation of church and state. As I have cited Prof. Harry Jaffa’s argument many times before, “By removing theological differences from the political arena, people could worship freely according to the dictates of their consciences, thereby promoting confidence and even friendship among citizens” (Harry Jaffa, “The American Founding as the Best Regime.”
There is a moral issue at stake here, too, that is perhaps deeper than the political argument above. While the Becket Fund (a nonprofit organization in DC that protects religious liberty of all faiths) argues that “blasphemy laws empower states against their citizens, protect ideas rather than individuals, and engender violence by condemning peaceful speech,” what the assassinations in Pakistan represent is a certain kind of moral indignation, of self-righteousness that moves its religious followers to kill or murder those who don’t share their beliefs, convinced that their action as morally justified. Jealous guardians of the tenets of their faith, they believe that their faith is superior over those of the infidels. To them, murdering a nonbeliever is morally equivalent to defending the faith.
But what God would approve such moral equivalence?