The Missionary Church of Kopimism
Religion gets a special protection in constitutions and human rights treaties. But what is “religion”?
What seems to me one of the most revolutionary developments for the freedom of religion is the official recognition of a new religion by the government of Sweden: the “Missionary Church of Kopimism” (in Swedish Missionerande Kopimistsamfundet). This Church claims that the act of sharing information through copying is akin, if not identical, to a religious service. The kopimists (called Kopimists from copy me) consider CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) to be sacred symbols. A kopimist has as the core of his professed religious belief that all information should be freely distributed unrestricted. The kopimists are opposed to the privatization of knowledge in all its forms. As they say: “in our belief, communication is sacred”. Not because they want to promote illegal file sharing, but because this means the open distribution of knowledge for all. The church also has a spiritual leader who, elated by the recent success of his religious movement, speaks of a “large step”. The church was founded by philosophy student Isak Gerson (b. 1993), who seriously hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection. In a statement he says:
For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organization and its members.
Not everyone reacted enthusiastically, but that doesn’t bother the members of the new religious movement, because the Swedish government agency Kammarkollegiet finally registered the Church of Kopimism as a “religious organization” after three previous applications had failed.
This development is highly relevant for the definition of “religion” in a legal context. “Religion” is protected in constitutions, human rights treaties and other legal documents. The problem is, though, that judicial and political institutions have great difficulty in establishing the boundaries of what can count as serious “religion”. Now the government of Sweden does what was imminent for a long time. It says: religion is in the eye of the beholder. Every activity that is experienced by the believers themselves as “holy” and “religious” has to be accepted by the state as “religious”.
What to think of this? The example of the Kopimists may serve as an intimidating example of what can happen with religious freedom. This, after all, blows religion up from the inside. It makes perfectly clear that a widespread attitude among legal scholars to refer to the experiences of believers themselves as having the last word on the religious character is self-refuting – at least it will deprive “religion” of its holy status. It makes “religious” whatever you want to see as “religious”. And does this still deserve the status of a “human right”?