The Democracy Book-Principle 12

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Principle 12: Religions cannot say what is law—only the people can vote to say what is law.

various people, religious symbols

In some places in the world, the religion with the most followers got to make the laws and then made all people follow those laws. Those places were not democracies. This was very hard for the people who did not practice the religion that made the laws. People everywhere have different ideas about how God wants humans to live. People simply do not agree on what God wants people to do. And many times, people think their view of God is right and that the view of other people is wrong. In a democracy, religions are not allowed to say what law that all people must follow. The entire society must vote on the laws. That way religion does not get to tell others what laws they must obey. The
members of a religion can volunteer to obey a principle themselves, but cannot force it on others by making it a law. People can have a religion. But they cannot use it to control other people. In a democracy, people, not religions, make the laws.


It was several days after that when the religious officials showed up. No one knew for sure who had invited them. They put on a wonderful religious service with singing, bells, prayers and stories. Most of the children loved the service. Petra was very impressed with the religious officials and said so.  “I just loved your service,” she told one official. “I hope you will come again.”

“I think we will,” the official replied. “Elena invited us to come again next week.”

Time passed quickly and soon it was next week, and, sure enough, the religious people came back.  And again, the service was lovely. Most really seemed to like it. But then a strange thing happened.  Here is how it came about.

The headman among the religious officials made an announcement. He had not cleared it with Elena because she never would have allowed it. Here is what he said.

“We religious leaders know what is good for adults and for you kids too. We have studied religious topics for years and we pray to the Creator a lot, so we know what is right. We have made a list of laws for you to use when you work and play. When we come back next week we will give rewards to those who have obeyed our laws and punish those who did not obey our laws.” He stood there smiling, waiting for the children to clap showing their approval. No one clapped. He stopped smiling.

“Come now,” he said, “surely you know that you cannot live by your laws. Surely you know that we religious leaders have the right to tell people what they should do.” By now most of the children were frowning, and Elena was standing on the sideline but was smiling. It seemed the more the kids frowned, the bigger her smile grew! The religious leader went on, “I understand that you practice democracy here and that is ok—well, I mean it is ok up to a point. But there comes a time when democracy must stop. It must bow to religion when it comes to saying what people can and cannot do!”

Then Elena strode to the front of the group. She stood right beside the man who had been speaking.  “Since we are a democracy, let’s vote. How many of you want to give your rights over to the religious leaders and how many of you want to keep your rights? Come on; hold up your hands if you want to keep your rights.” Nadesh, as he held up his hand, looked about the group. Almost every hand went up. My, my, what a big smile was on Elena’s face. She turned to the religious leader.

“Thank you for coming, but please don’t come back. Good day to you.” And with that the group of religious leaders packed up and left. Elena spoke to the group. “Don’t worry; we will continue to have religious services. But we will find a religion that supports democracy. We will find a religion that gives us a religious experience but does not tell us what laws we have to live by. For that, we have our elected lawmakers and elected managers.” Then she added, “Don’t misunderstand me, I value religious experience very much. It’s just that in a democracy religious leaders cannot over ride the decisions of the elected lawmakers and managers, who are responsible to the people who elected

The very next week there was a different religious group there to put on the services. The leader started out by saying, “we believe in democracy—people must have self rule. We will offer a religious experience for your lives, which you are free, of course, to use or not use as you desire.” To be continued....

Activity: Write a list on the board of activities/positions that various religions have adopted at one time or another. It is good to list some that are in opposition to others on the same list.  Examples are: It is ok to have several wives, it is not ok to have more than one wife, it is ok to cut off the hand of someone who steals, it is not ok to cut off the hand of one who steals, women can be ministers/clergy, only men can be ministers/clergy, you must be baptized to go to Heaven, you do not need to be baptized in order to go to Heaven, it is ok to kill and eat animals, it is not ok to kill and eat  animals, it is ok to have human slaves, it is not ok to have human slaves, females cannot be educated, females can be educated, etc. Remind the students that if any one of these is made a law it must be obeyed by ALL people. Go through the list and discuss the possible laws.  “Would you want that to be the law of the land?” Ask that question often. Point out that all religions have good parts to them and have created great leaders. Also point out that it would not be fair for some of these things to be forced upon all as a law. Help the students see that even though they like a certain law, others might not and vice a versa. In a democracy we say it is unfair to make people practice the principles of a religion that they do not want to practice.  Therefore, religions cannot decide what will be a law.

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