Trope-a-Day: Illegal Religion

Illegal Religion: Well, now. While neither the Fundamental Contract nor the Imperial Charter considers freedom of religion a fundamental right (those would all be much more, um, fundamental), it is, in most ways, a strict subset of those which it does recognize. The latter does, however, mention freedom of philosophy in the clause which establishes the state religion:

The above notwithstanding, the freedom of philosophy for the individual shall not be abridged, save when required for the public safety; and the rights of the citizen-shareholder shall not be diminished or enlarged on any philosophical criterion; save that the doctrines of a philosophy may act as an impairment to citizenship when they are considered antithetical to true allegiance or the principles upon which the Empire is founded, and the Senate and Curia have made such determination.

– the Imperial Charter, Section II, Article VIII

Thus, no religion is illegal in the Empire per se.

That said, the Empire is very keen on certain principles, like the ethical equality of all sophonts, their endowment with certain absolute, inalienable, non-derogable rights, that these rights are to life and property, liberty, and the pursuit of eudaimonia, the obligation of contracts, and so on and so forth, and if your religion, philosophy, or culture differs significantly on that point – especially but not necessarily in praxis1that’s what’ll get it on the list of Proscribed Promulgators of Pernicious Irrationality.

But, y’know, it’s not a per se ban, it’s a because you are by your own choice and statement incapable of undertaking the obligations inherent in Imperial citizen-shareholdership ban, which the Senate and Curia will be kind enough to explain the details of to you in the Take Your Religion/Culture/Philosophy and Shove It Act (As Applicable).

(Life is, by and large, a little more pleasant for those civilized henotheists who have no problem coming to a polite and respectful accommodation between their private beliefs and the public – primarily Flamic – ones. Dogmatic monotheism isn’t illegal, mind – its practice just makes you look like a right dick.)


  1. With regard to the “The religion requires or encourages behavior that is unacceptable to the ruling culture. In this case, the rulers may tolerate abstract belief in the religion as long as the objectionable elements are not practiced.” policy mentioned on the trope page, the Empire has thought about it for all of a second and then dismissed it. Remember that old Minbari saying, “Understanding is not required, only obedience”2? The Imperials prefer to espouse the opposite – especially the acquiescents. All deeds grow from thoughts, after all.
  2. Having that in the doctrines of your religion isn’t banworthy, but it’s certainly a bad sign.

While TV Tropes only asks for Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement where Real Life examples are concerned, I’m going to ask that if anyone has the urge to discuss in the comments, we keep it in the hypothetical mode. I’m sure we can all think of such examples one way or t’other, but I do not want Earthling religious flamewars here, and will be striking down on any that do appear with great vengeance and furious anger, m’kay?

20 thoughts on “Trope-a-Day: Illegal Religion

  1. I would think that this sort of thing would make most citizens (subjects?) of the Imperium Of Man personae non grata in the Empire, at least as citizens thereof.

    I’d think the bizarre G’Nunk religion from Starflight II would be right up there, too, except that the Empire’s likely response to their first run-in with the G’Nunk would almost certainly involve a multi-exajoule “take your aggressive philosophy and cram it“, which might or might not leave any G’Nunk to object to.

  2. Since we’re keeping everything in the hypothetical mode: What would the eldrae make of a belief system that, while not strictly speaking disagreeing with Imperial praxis per se, nevertheless asserted that the rights of the Fundamental Contract are not “rights / claims” in the Hohfeldian sense, but closer to “privileges”?

    • (To clarify: I’m thinking in particular reference to the idea in some legal systems — particularly ancient ones — that certain crimes could carry a penalty of outlawry by default, where the court basically stated that due to their crime the offender lost their status as a legal person and was thus outside the protection of the law.)

      • Now, the thing is here, so far as the Imperials are concerned, this is entirely compatible if not indeed implied by their Hohfeldian rights. It’s because the right and duty are inextricably entwined that failure to adhere to the latter cedes the protection of the former until said failure is rectified. If it weren’t so, you couldn’t punish criminals at all, since that’d be violating their rights.

        (Which is sort of like automatic temporary outlawry, if you will. The Empire does have a more formal conception of outlawry – that’s be the Red List, which is MinSerenity and ISS’s official list of people who don’t enjoy the protection of the Contract and whose proof-of-kill they would enjoy seeing if anyone felt like bringing it to them.)

        • And what I’m talking about isn’t just “license to kill because they’re not a legal person” but “license to do anything you think is justified because they aren’t a legal person” — included (but not necessarily limited to) the sort of revenge presented in “Choices” ( ), and including options that individuals whose personal sense of vengeance justice includes more elements of lex talionis and contrapasso than standard Imperial doctrine and practice would necessarily condone.

          Or, to boil it down to a single sentence: “It ain’t slavery / theft / coercion if who you’re doing it to ain’t a person to begin with.”

          • The issues arising there are less likely to be a matter of legal niceties around the meaning of rights and duties, and more likely to be a matter of them being a bunch of creepy-ass psychotic motherfuckers.

          • I’m fully aware of that.

            The issue I’m trying to get an answer for is, though, is: Is it possible in this situation to be a creepy-ass psychotic motherfucker who is nevertheless legally in the right?

          • No, inasmuch as it’s essentially illegal to be a creepy-ass psychotic motherfucker.

            (Also, haven’t we already been through this? I seem to remember…)

          • Let’s consider the general case, not specific to an Imperial citizen-shareholder per se, and thus not strictly under obligation to be “sane.”

          • Whether citizen, resident, or transient, you signed and sealed something obliging you thus.

            Of course, that’s also kind of circular, since aforementioned psychotic motherfuckers are ineligible for citizenship, admission, and very likely enough tort insurance to qualify as legally competent.

          • (Also, haven’t we already been through this? I seem to remember…)

            (I don’t recall this specific issue coming up, though I do think we’ve addressed ones tangential and / or overlapping to it in the past.)

          • Actually, strike that last question and allow me to ask a better question, for the sake of clarity:

            What, specifically, is the issue at stake that makes such a conclusion unacceptably psychotic? I can understand why they might object on grounds that it’s morally pessimal (to use your terminology from a previous discussion) not to “abstain from the very appearance of evil,” and how in a positivist sense it might be abnegated by an Imperial citizen-shareholder’s commitment to maintain a specific standard of what locally is defined as sanity, but as for its applicability to the general mass beyond the confines of the Empire’s own reach, and particularly to a self-sovereign individual under no contractual constraints to behave otherwise:

            One: As you’ve already pointed out, the vitiation of an offender’s rights under the Fundamental Contract is already necessary to enable the legitimate use of punishment in the first place.

            Two: One could make the argument that such forfeiture is unconditional and absolute — that, in essence, by demonstrating that they cannot be trusted with the obligations placed upon them, they have “forfeited their capacity to self-determinate” — and only the explicit re-grant of the one offended against (or of another party to whom they have delegated the responsibility by consent of mutual contract).

            Three: That Point Two in and of itself already constitutes a form of latae sententiae “legal death separate” from and not necessarily requiring the concomitant imposition of “physical death” or “information-theoretic death” (though, granted, it often is in most cases).

            (As a tangential aside — though one I’ll come back to later — it seems that this is the necessary justification that allows anyone, and not just the particular victim(s), to shoot and kill an offender for what we would regard as relatively petty offenses if they deem it necessary under Imperial jurisprudence.)

            Four: If we accept Point Two (and Point Three, by implication) as valid — that the vitiation of such protections and obligations is unconditional and absolute — then, absent any explicit contractual stipulations such as the agreement to adhere to the judgment of a third-party mediator, the judgment of what constitutes an adequate recompense for the defendant’s crimes is fundamentally dependent on the subjective judgement of the plaintiff, and thus that the restoration of the defendant to “communion” with the general law-abiding population by the re-grant of their rights is at their pleasure.

            Now, I’m not necessarily saying that I agree with such a chain of logic or advocate the actions it allows; I’m merely trying to demonstrate that such a belief can be rationally derived with valid arguments, granted the truth of certain premises.

            I suspect that the main weakness in this argument — and probably the one that you’re trying to get at — is the “unconditional and absolute forfeiture” premise brought up in Point Two, yet it seems to me that rejecting this in favor of a set of proportionality conditions would also invalidate the validity of “Shoot First, Ask Questions of Anything that Remains” approach the Empire prides itself on accepting unless care was taken in defining the conditions.

            Let’s also not forget that the eldrae themselves have had a historical penchant for burning certain heinous offenders alive in a manner which was not itself a quick, easy, or painless death. ( This seems to imply that the concept isn’t quite as foreign to the eldraeic standards of sanity as it would appear at first blush — and thus that, in a sense, Imperial history itself was driven by the actions of certain creepy-ass psychotic motherfuckers, since they seemed to have no problems inflicting that on other people.

          • (By chance, I happened to be typing this as you posted the above reply; hence the first sentence.)

    • Hm. I’m not sure I follow quite where you’re going here. Certainly the Imperial way of doing things treats those as a Hohfeldian pair: right and duty, inextricably bound (claim rights).

      But one in which those rights are Hohfeldian privileges would dissonate remarkably from Imperial praxis: a right to life that isn’t also a duty not to kill is extremely limited, since no-one could have any meaningful claim against their murderers or would-be murders, and so on and so forth. Life, liberty, and property as Hohfeldian privileges (liberty rights) would merely mean that you couldn’t be prosecuted for failing to kill and imprison yourself while giving all your property away – everything would be permitted in terms of violating the rights of others.

      So, hey, welcome to Nepscia. Here’s your handbasket!

      • I will concede that maybe I phrased that wrong, in retrospect; what I meant to be getting at is “What would they make of the assertion that these ‘fundamental rights’ are actually ‘contingent rights’?”

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  4. So I can believe God isn’t partial to one man buggering another man and that He is right put off by it but as long as I personally don’t break into the home of two adult fellows doing just that and throw rocks at them til they are dead then that is ok?

    I could live that. Thought I am not baking either of them a wedding Cake if I don’t fancy it. They can bother the Unitarian down the street.

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