Bangladesh: Do We Need a Ministry for Religious Minorities?

Guest Post by Farzana Mahmood, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a multi religious country where the Muslim population is officially estimated at around 90.5 per cent, Hindus 8.5 per cent, followed by Buddhists (0.6 per cent) and Christians (0.3 per cent) and others (0.1 per cent). The Constitution protects the equal status of all religion, ensures equal rights of every citizen irrespective of his religious identity, affirms secularism to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of religion and ensures freedom to practice any religion.

The bitter experience under the disguise of religion during the partition of the subcontinent, the regime of Pakistan and finally in the Liberation war of 1971, encouraged the Constitution makers and the people of Bangladesh to stay firm with principles of secularism and freedom of religion. Maulana Abdur Rashid Tarkobagish on 30th October 1972 gave his observations on secularism in the Parliamentary Assembly debate (Parishad Bitorko) and stated that under the name of Islam the barbaric Pakistani soldiers mercilessly killed Bengalees on 25th March of 1971 (Speech on introduction of constitution Bill. Source- minutes of the first meeting of the second session of National Assembly October, 1972, Parishad Bitorko (Assembly Debate), Dhaka: GOB).

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Masterpiece Cakeshop: And the winner is … pluralism?

Elizabeth A. Clark is Associate Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. She joined an amicus brief of 34 legal scholars in support of the cakeshop in this case.

No one seems pleased with the result in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights CommissionIn significant ways, both those supporting Jack Phillips, the baker, and proponents of Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the same-sex couple, lost. On the one hand, the Supreme Court refused to grant unqualified protection to those who conscientiously object to providing goods and services to same-sex couples, and at the same time the court shut down efforts to assert that all forms of discrimination affecting same-sex couples should be labeled mere bigotry. The court pushed for a more pluralist approach, noting both that “gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth,” and that “[a]t the same time, the religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.”

The Supreme Court’s decision was certainly not a complete win for those seeking religious exemptions to celebrating same-sex marriages. There is no clearly delineated protection for future bakers, florists or photographers who feel that providing cakes, flowers and photography for same-sex weddings would violate their religious principles. By focusing on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s failure to provide the “neutral and respectful” adjudication of Phillips’ religious claims that the free exercise clause requires, the court left open broader questions of compelled speech and free exercise.

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