Religious people frequently make public comments that are a cause of suffering. We've all seen them before: Hateful remarks condemning sex, science, homosexuals, non-believers, other religions. These remarks hinder the progress of mankind while promoting tribalism, superstition, even violence. Rarely if ever are they prosecuted for the harm that they cause. As the supposed day of reckoning comes to a wrap without incident, it is time to consider the question: When does free speech and the free practice of religion cross into the territory of criminal activity?
Harold Camping, with his "Doomsday" prophecy, his unfettered collection of money in support of his cause, and the harm done to society at large committed a crime against humanity. The people that this man bilked are society's most gullible. This gullibility is a product of society's acceptance of religious superstition and of the victim's intellect and education. Should they bear the full brunt of their ignorance? Harold Camping has now twice defrauded his followers, and it's time to look at whether or not cases like these warrant prosecution.
Several stories are emerging of people who literally decided to "take no care for the morrow". Some spent their life savings, some sold their houses and hit the road in vehicular billboards procaliming that judgment was nigh. There is even a story of a mother who attempted to kill herself and her two daughters in fear of the end of the world (Heaven's Gate anyone?). As facts emerge about these stories, it will become increasingly clear how much damage this false prophecy has caused.
The time has come for a serious discussion on what the ramifications should be for such abuse of the public trust. While freedom of belief is an invaluable piece in any democracy and freedom of speech just as worthy of protection, when should we judge that the line has been crossed into negligence or even crime? Does it matter if this man really believed what he was saying? Should he be forced to repay the donations to his organization? Can a religious prophecy be enough to charge a person with manslaughter if it incites followers to suicide? When do we hold religion accountablefor the consequences it hath wrought?
I think the argument will always become a debate of semantics since when someone says "believe" they are not by definition saying it certainly will. Hiding behind terminology is how they manage to hold onto these silly concepts no matter how dangerous. Take a look at fox news sometime and you can easily see how they manipulate phraseology whenever possible to espouse something they feel is true. Recently Jon Stewart pointed this out as well stating "if you put a question mark at the end of a statement, you can pretty much say anything such as; Is your mother a whore? I'm not saying she's a whore of course"
At what point does a religious group become a cult?