Practice English Speaking&Listening with: TedxVienna - Niko Alm - The End of Freedom of Religion

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Translator: Leonardo Silva Reviewer: Tijana Mihajlović

So, this is what driver's licenses used to look like in Austria.

Quite unhandy, huh?

Usually, they don't have the edges cut off.

Mine is cut off because it's not valid anymore;

I got myself a new one.

And it's the story of -

I got my new driver's license.

I wanted to change the unhandy driver's license

to a new one in credit card format, which I happened to bring here.

And I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles,

in 2008,

and got myself a brochure that I read,

and I found some rules

on how pictures in driver's licenses are supposed to be.

And one rule specified

that you're not allowed to wear any hats of headgear

in your driver's license pictures,

except for religious reasons.

I found that unfair.

Why could you wear a headgear for religious reasons?

Why can't everybody wear a headgear? Equality before the law, right?

And that particular exception isn't even covered by law.

So, this is nothing but pre-emptive subordination

on behalf of freedom of religion.

And I wouldn't have to care, because I'm firm believer myself.

I do believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

And -


as a firm believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster,

I picked my favorite pasta strainer and took pictures,

and went back to the Department of Motor Vehicles

to apply for my driver's license.

I was wearing the pasta strainer all the time, nothing to conceal.

And -


I had the pasta strainer on my head, I had it on in the pictures.

The man behind the counter, he didn't say a thing that the pictures weren't fine.

So, I applied, they took my application,

I went home, waited for my driver's license to be issued.

Nothing happened. I waited for weeks.

Instead of my driver's license,

I received an invitation to go see the Public Health Officer, okay?


I went to see the Public Health Officer,

and I found out she had to judge on my level of lunacy.

And she asked me why I did that, I told her,

and she declared me sane immediately.

She notified the authorities,

I assumed, "Everything is going to be fine now,"

went home and waited for my driver's license to be issued.

That was in March of 2009.

Nothing happened for a month.

And I waited, nothing happened.

In October of that year, 12th of October,

my driver's license was secretly issued.

I received no notification thereof, and waited.

Actually, I did forget about the thing.

Until a friend told me this year, in July, that my driver's license was already there

because his uncle works at the DMV and he told him,

and it was ready to be picked, and I went there and picked it up,

and it had my picture on it.

And I took that picture and I left the building.

I went back to my office, wrote a short blog post on the story

and published it on my blog.

And I found out the Austrian Press Agency is reading my blog.

They called me,

they asked me whether they can send out the picture along with the story,

and I told them, "Go ahead. Do it."

And what happened was, in the following week,

I had about 50 interviews with TV stations, radio stations,

online magazines, newspapers, all around the globe.

The story even went on Rolling Stone.

Yeah, it's something I failed to accomplish with my band.


That's not the only thing that happened.

Two weeks ago, somebody posted an event on Facebook,

the Pastafarian International Headgear Day.

October 12th, remember?

That's the day the driver's license was issued two year ago.

And, as you can see,


these people not only have a refined taste in culinary sieves, pasta strainers;

they're also annoyed.


They're annoyed by the same thing I'm annoyed,

that freedom of religion is abused to create legal loopholes.

And that is a problem

because it violates the basic principle of democracy,

and that is equality, equality before the law,

that stipulates that no one is to be discriminated or privileged

because of his religion or belief.

And of course there are exceptions from equality.

If you consider handicapped parking, that's a special right,

but that's a special right that has a base in reality.

There's a material need for that special right.

When it comes to religion,

when individuals or organizations ask for special rights,

what are they grounded on?

They're grounded on "holiness."

People declare things or thoughts, feelings, behaviors as holy

and demand for special rights,

and these are only subjective claims.

And, if you consider a few examples, there's, for instance, ritual slaughter,

where animals are killed by cutting throats.

And I'm no expert in cutting throats, and apparently that's a fun thing to do,

and I don't want to spoil the fun.

And, in Germany,

this is considered animal cruelty and there are laws against it,

but exceptions are being made on behalf of religious freedom,

because some members of some confessions are allowed to kill animals that way.

That's not the only example. There are plenty more examples.

Take this for instance. That's the kirpan.

That's a small knife that is to be carried around by the members of the Sikh faith

at all times, including children.

Children usually have to go to school.

So, they're supposed to bring their knife to school.

And, in Canada, the Supreme Court ruled five years ago

that children are allowed to bring daggers to school.

Again, only members of the Sikh faith, not everybody.

So, don't get me wrong.

It's totally fine to ask for special rights

on behalf of religious freedom,

but then you have to judge whether these rights can be extended to everyone

so equality is not violated.

Very skilled, or most skilled actually, in abusing freedom of religion

to hold on to special rights, privileges or even extend those privileges

is organized religion.

Organized religion needs help, it needs somebody to endorse that abuse,

and that is state.

And, very often, state and religion form a type of symbiotic relationship

where state allows for these privileges

and, in return, demands or asks organized religion

to admit to the acceptance of certain democratic core values.

So, it's a trade-off.

And that bears the strangest fruit, that type of symbiotic relationship.

For example, think of crosses in public schools,

like we have in many European countries.

In Austria, more than half of the children in classrooms of public schools

belong to a Christian faith; a cross must hang on the wall.

And the cross is the only religious symbol that has to hang on the classroom wall.

And the Austrian Constitutional Court

doesn't even consider the cross a religious symbol.

And, if you're ever in need of a funny, circular argument, take this one.

It goes a little like this.

In Austria, we have a separation of church and state.

So, if there is a cross in a classroom, it cannot be a religious symbol,

but must be a traditional symbol.

So, Austria is a perfect example of what I call a syncretistic state.

That's the prevalent model

of the symbiotic relationship between religion and state.

The syncretistic state evolved from state religion.

There was one dominant religion, and then, at some point in time -

you may call it the birth of freedom of religion -

other religions were tolerated.

Some of them were even elevated to the privileged status,

the state, thus, acquiring some sort of neutrality,

which is, of course, only a pseudo neutrality,

because state would have to add

more and more religions and beliefs to the privileged status

to actually have neutrality.

As you can see, this is a model that cannot work.

The only working model is, of course, if Pastafarianism is state religion,

like in Walkoria.

Walkoria is a small island at the coast of New Zealand,

and there Pastafarianism is state religion.

So, everything's fine.


I'm not serious.

The only actual working model is laicity,

which is the clean separation of church and state,

where religion is considered a private matter

and state does not interfere in anything that has to do with religion.

So, no religion, no belief is privileged or discriminated.

This is the model of state I call agnostic state.

Freedom of religion, the term itself, is wrong, in my opinion,

because religion is only a subcategory

of a more universal, larger concept of worldviews, philosophies, ideologies.

So -

if you stress religion, you imply a norm, you set a standard,

and you force that norm upon others, especially those who don't believe.

And, to include those who don't believe in the concept of freedom of religion,

the term "negative freedom of religion" was coined -

negative freedom of religion and positive freedom of religion,

essentially meaning positive affiliation with religion,

which is just like positive affiliation with race.

And that doesn't make sense

because it's just like speaking of people who are white and non-white,

or black or non-black,

and that's absurd because it's racist, and just as racist as it sounds.

So, modern democracies don't categorize by race,

they don't categorize by origin, by language, color of the skin,

color of the eyes, favorite color,

but they do, or some do, categorize because of religion.

Austria does.

They even want you or encourage you

to put your religion on your registry certificate.

And -

the question is: Why does state do this?

What's going to happen with that information?

Is that freedom of religion?

Is that what freedom of religion was intended for?

That you're asked for your religion?

No, actually not.

The original concept was, in the absence of free choice,

that people were free to choose their religion.

But, over time, that concept of freedom of religion has become corrupted.

Now, freedom of religion is something that's self-evident.

And the term is actually -

What remains is that the term is used as a tool to blackmail state and society.

So, in my opinion,

freedom of religion has come to an end,

and we should put it to sleep, leave it to rest in peace.

So, let's separate church and state.

Thank you.


The Description of TedxVienna - Niko Alm - The End of Freedom of Religion