John Stuart Mill in On Liberty went to some length about Self Regarding Actions (SRA) and Other Regarding Actions (ORA). Basically the former is self-regarding and subject only to personal persuasion and inducement. Such an action becomes other-regarding and open to public sanction if, and only if, it either harms an interest, violates a right, or neglects a duty owed to another person or persons.
One of the things laid out in that definition of liberty that I wrote about the other day was the right to believe or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing. Which brings us up against one one in our envelope of modern liberty. The religious believes of someone may be largely malign and a SRA but what is something from those of other faith or none becomes and ORA.
A lot has been made recently of the bus driver who refused to drive the bus carrying the agnostic slogan "There Probably is no god. Get on with enjoying yourself." Or the Christian registrar who refused to marry same sex couples. The actions of both these people of faith in these instances were SRAs there was provision for the driver to drive another bus, and for the registrar others were able to swap assignments with her. However, many on the liberal flanks were up in arms about their actions. Therefore there are two sides to the coin.
People were able to get a bus, driven by that driver. Same sex couples were able to be civil partnered in that London Borough. So therefore no rights or interests were actually denied. You can and many do that the duty to others would have been neglected in the case of the registrar. But looking at it from the other side of the glass if liberty is to allow individuals in society to believe what they want to believe and express themselves as they see fit, does that not mean that in essence the ORAs of others were impinging on these two.
In the past few days somebody did raise with the issue that three of the members of the Disaster Emergency Committee were very much of a Christian ethos and that their aid came hand in hand with a bible and the distribution thereof. The argument being that by supporting the DEC's appeal I was also condoning an added religious tension into the mix. Therefore where does one draw the line. The economist in me said to them there is a cost benefit analysis to be taken into consideration, especially as they along with myself largely wanted to get aid to those in need as quickly as possible.
Which is the greater ORA, the benefit or the cost? With the example of the two individual mentioned earlier there were ORAs in operation on both sides, but which had the greater infringement on liberty?
If we are truly aiming for a modern liberty we have to allow room for those who disagree with us. But as Mill said the line gets drawn where that freedom harms an interest, violates a right, or neglects a duty owed to another person or persons. Indeed Mill himself, in his posthumous essays, saw a "social utility of religion " based on it having a moral code and leading to a benevolence of those who believed. He of course said that the strictures of dogma often impinged on others.
So while our liberty has increased in many areas since Mill's time increasingly humanistic society has started to look down on those of faith; trying to limit the way they express themselves even if it causes no harm to others. Now in some cases that is warrented but in others those with faith are often or are actually agents for social change or justice.