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Religion vs Environment

The right to religious freedom, thought and belief is a fundamental right recognised by the United Nations through Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The United Nations also recognises the need for humans to preserve our natural environment, and refrain from activity that unnecessarily depletes natural resources. It becomes problematic when the two compete for precedence.

In Swaziland we have many Christian denominations which hold just as many different beliefs.

There are denominations that hold the belief that a valid baptism is one performed in a natural river, as opposed to water in a pool. There are numerous issues that may arise from baptising a group of people in a river. The main one being the contamination of a water source, followed by destruction or fragmentation of habitat for water and amphibious animals such as frogs and crabs.

It is unconceivable that anyone should dictate to another as to what and what not to believe. It is of course a different story when religious beliefs contravene criminal law, but in as far as the environment is concerned, the solution is not as clear cut.

Everyone has the right to enjoy the environment within reasonable limits. What is reasonable is highly subjective so it will differ from one person to another. In any event who is to say that arguments championing religious freedom should trump the environmental concerns raised, or vice versa? The problem with choosing one over another is that there will always be a group that feels disadvantaged and excluded from the protection of the law.

Perhaps when such a matter comes before the courts it will be settled once and for all. One hopes that the court will give a value judgement, taking into account the sensitivities that come with such cases.

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