There's plenty of global religious freedom news beyond the Kim Davis case

If you read GetReligion even sporadically, you must know that mainstream news coverage of religious freedom issues receives a great deal of attention on this blog, for many reasons.

Perhaps the prime reason is that they play a leading role in the societal and political conflicts marking this era of rapid social change. That keeps them constantly in the news, and that can't be ignored when you're a blog devoted to media coverage of religion issues. Plus, issues of freedom of conscience are often linked -- globally -- to freedom of the press.

For Americans, the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who cites religious belief for refusing to issue marriage licenses -- containing the endorsement of her name and/or signature -- to same-sex couples, has been the latest U.S. religious freedom headline hog.

What is her church? Here's a link to an interesting Reuters piece about her Apostolic Christian faith, via Yahoo.

 What comes next? Will the Muslim flight attendant for an American airline who says she was suspended from her job for refusing to serve alcoholic drinks be the next religious freedom cause célèbre? It will be interesting to see what sort of religious community support she, a Muslim, receives.

Look, I'm fully aware that Americans are most interested in issues that impact them as Americans.

But the rest of the world has its own melange of religious freedom issues  -- some a matter of life and death, literally. They cannot be ignored in a globalized world (witness Europe's current migrant/refugee crisis with its Muslim vs. Christian overtones.)

Moreover, they're a helpful reminder for journalists that local concerns differ from place to place and that location, perhaps above all else, determines how religious freedom issues are framed.

I've written here before about the importance of putting aside a narrow American focus when trying to understand and explain the world at large. Here's a link to one such post.

Global religious freedom issues include Iran's persecution of Baha'is, Saudi Arabia's suppression of outward displays of all non-Islamic faith, China's tight control of all religious expression, Pakistan's labeling of Ahmadiyya Muslims as heretics, majority Buddhist Sri Lanka's treatment of its Hindu minority, and Israeli Orthodox Judaism's state-granted strangle-hold over conversion and life-cycle events for all Israeli Jews, whatever their personal beliefs.

Nor can we overlook the Muslim world's Sunni-Shia split, perhaps the deadliest religious freedom issue of them all (calling it an issue seems such an understatement).

Take a look at the latest report of the U.S. International Commission on Religious Freedom to see just how widespread and varied religious freedom issues are worldwide. You might also read this piece by our own Jim Davis on how the USICRF mandate will run out at month's end unless Congress acts to extend it.

Then there's the legal case in India involving santhara, the Jain religious practice of starving oneself to death for believed spiritual gain. Opponents went to court to stop the practice, calling santhara nothing more than suicide, which is illegal in India. A final decision in the case is not expected for some time.

Santhara, as the above link to The Indian Express notes, is considered an "act of supreme renunciation and great piety" by the nation's Jain religious minority, which puts prime emphasis on personal renunciation of materialism, including earthly life itself, as a spiritual path. (Some Hindus also retain the custom.)

Here's an NPR piece on the santhara issue containing additional detail on the practice and its place in Jain beliefs. And here's another from The New York Times that contains some fine explanatory quotes from family members of a man who has chosen to perform santhara.

There's some similarity here with the right-to-die movement in the West, with one major role reversal, of course. In the West, opposition to euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide generally is expressed by religious believers. The reverse appears to be the case with respect to santhara, with non-believers championing  the opposition.

For me, the lesson of the Tower of Babel account is just how much it's possible for humans to disagree on deeply held  beliefs. What appears a clear case of infringement on religious freedom to some, appears to others an equally clear case of religious believers trying to impose their practices on society.

Unfortunately, the news media migration to the Internet, with its freewheeling ethos and ferocious competition for eyeballs, has accelerated the history of journalistic outlets picking one side in the religious freedom debate -- and then publishing or broadcasting everything they do on the subject from only that calcified point of view.

(Yes, GetReligion writers can be said to do this as well. But this is an opinion website; GR makes no claim to being journalistically neutral; though I hope we come off intellectually honest, fair-minded, and insightful about journalism. If you find us calling for skewed coverage, as opposed to accurate, balanced coverage of both sides, then please let us know.)

It's difficult for journalists (and all people) to adhere to professional neutrality when religious freedom issues bang up against their personal opinion on the day's deadline uproar, not to mention a position staked out by an employer.

However, American-style journalism as its traditionally been practiced depends upon a journalist's ability to self-monitor their adherence to professional neutrality when producing straight-forward news, and fairness and intellectual honesty when producing analysis or opinion.

It's not easy, but it does build trust among media consumers.

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