Human rights are often thrown around as a talking point in the news and academic spaces. Because we live in a high-income nation, many within our society have the propensity to view human rights violations as a characteristic only found in far-off countries. When we think of places like North Korea or Afghanistan, of course human rights command our attention as an issue that needs to be advocated for. Yet, thanks to popular culture and indoctrination, we are still ignorant of abuses that happen on our soil. The myth that Western society experiences minimal assaults on human rights is dangerous and only silences those who are mistreated.
In the United States, as lucky as most of us are, there still are threats to individual liberties. While certain individuals and groups can claim otherwise, they directly contribute to a gradual erosion of constitutional freedoms. Radicals believe that religion can be used as a tool to institute their own society that blatantly ignores rights granted under American law. This is not the intent of religious freedom, and the merging of religious abuse and human rights is a necessary discussion to have.
I had the pleasure to briefly interview Dr. Susanne Zwingel, an associate professor at Florida International University’s Department of Politics and International Relations. Her research interests and experience in human rights and gender policy, among other areas of expertise, rendered her a fantastic person to speak to on what the Amish Heritage Foundation seeks to accomplish in the fight for Amish rights.
Dr. Zwingel had this to say about the impact of radical religious causes on individual freedom:
“There is –– sometimes –– a tension between the right to freedom of religion and an understanding of human rights that focuses on equal access to rights. Because religious communities are exclusive and defined by certain rules to follow. The Amish are here no different from other religious communities …
On the other hand, if one agrees that religion is a fundament of humanity, and that for many people, the free exercise of their religion is the most important part of their lives, then it is no surprise that they demand these group-/ religion-specific rights.
As a women’s rights scholar, I am well aware of the tension between religious rules and human rights for all. However, I believe that this tension cannot be resolved by deciding that only one side is right. There needs to be mutual engagement.”
Mutual engagement is a great choice of words. Religious organizations play a significant role in stopping the wave of radicalism; their presence in the mainstream is proof that religion can positively contribute to society. There are devout Christians who disagree with banning children from the classroom, which the Amish are infamous for doing. It is illogical to believe that 100% of Amish society agrees with the abuse occurring in their own community.
Reaching out to, rather than lambasting, religious rights activists will make radical causes lose steam. It is not hard to marry religious doctrine with human rights––the only danger is allowing that same doctrine to be convoluted by the interests of a dangerous minority.
Summer Intern, Amish Heritage Foundation