Education and Media Either Allies or Threats to Tolerance

Archbishop Fitzgerald Addresses OSCE on Racism and Xenophobia

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BRUSSELS, SEPT. 24, 2004 ( The struggle against discrimination has two decisive allies or enemies: education and the media, the Holy See pointed out when addressing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, came to this conclusion on Sept. 14, 2004 when addressing the conference organized by the OSCE in Brussels on tolerance and the struggle against racism, xenophobia, and discrimination.

The British prelate also warned about present-day attempts to enlarge the causes of intolerance to aspects that attempt against law, culture, or religion (for example, when the Catholic Church announces its ethical view) regarding them as intolerant acts.

For the papal representative racism, xenophobia, discrimination or intolerance are due to «the ignorance, prejudice and hatred, which may often arise from faulty and inadequate education and also from the misuse of the media.»

An adequate education, the prelate explained, presents the great values of coexistence, such as «the unity of the human race, the equal dignity of all human beings and the solidarity which binds together of all the members of the human family.»

«The programs of educational institutions should in fact transmit an objective knowledge of different cultures and encourage the interest of the new generations in the different historical, linguistic, and cultural traditions of their particular area, of the European continent, and indeed of the world as a whole,» the archbishop continued.

John Paul II has often emphasized that the teaching of religion, in particular, can instill the hope that there is a real possibility of living together in a common perspective of solidarity and peace,» he emphasized.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue explained that the United Nations and the OSCE itself have already identified the real causes of discrimination and requested that the latter not be enlarged without justification.

«Attempts to extend such categories to include causes which could clash with the legal systems, with the culture and the religious traditions of a vast majority of the members of the United Nations and the OSCE, constitute a lack of respect for, and even of tolerance towards, such traditions.»

Religious tolerance, the archbishop pointed out, requires that education and the media understand and respect the specific character of religions, which are not political or civic associations, and which cannot be judged with the same criteria as the latter.

«Religious communities contribute to the culture of our societies and to the democratic debate within them, but they also point to the spiritual dimension that not all would recognize but which is of demonstrable importance to the life of citizens,» he explained.

Lastly, Archbishop Fitzgerald clarified the misunderstanding that religious tolerance would lead to religious relativism.

«I wish finally to emphasize that, when carried out in the right manner, education in respect of tolerance does not imply reducing the fundamental principles of every religion and culture to the lowest common denominator,» he clarified.

As «stated in the UNESCO Declaration on Tolerance, the latter does not imply renouncing one’s principles or weakening one’s adherence to them.»

«Education in tolerance, including through the media, means educating in the exercise of the freedom to adhere to one’s own convictions, while accepting that others may adhere to theirs as well, and in respecting those practices that correspond to each individual’s religious beliefs, provided that they violate neither the rights of others, nor national security, public health or morals,» he concluded.

Founded in 1975 in Helsinki, the OSCE is the organization for the largest regional security in the world with 55 European, Central Asian, and North American Member States.

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