Holy See on Religious Freedom

«Protect Believers From Hate Speech»

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NEW YORK, OCT. 29, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the message Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, delivered today before the Third Committee of the 63rd session of the U.N. General Assembly on religious freedom.

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Mr Chairman,

As we prepare for the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we are reminded of the ongoing struggle for the realization of even the most fundamental right enshrined in this historic document. To this day the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion contained in Article 18 of the UDHR continues to face serious challenges and breaches in a number of regions around the world.

As the special Rapporteur notes in her detailed report, members of all religions are being persecuted in many parts of the globe. The recent armed attacks — killings and destruction of religious, social and humanitarian structures — against Christians in India, Iraq and other regions of the world are a cause of grave concern. They indicate the dramatic consequences of the violation of this fundamental right, whose bearers are individual believers and religious groups instead of territorial and cultural areas. They draw attention to the need for a timely and concerted effort on the part of the legislative, executive and judiciary levels to ensure that the fundamental right to religious freedom, in any given country, is defended and promoted.

This era of globalization is characterized by unprecedented human mobility and cultural exchanges — with the consequent exposure to diversity of thought, expression and religious beliefs. Respecting and promoting the right to religious freedom means keeping in mind that such freedom belongs to people and religious communities and cannot be coerced, limited or trampled upon on the basis of geography or cultures and traditions. Furthermore, individuals must be able not only to practice their faith but also to change or uphold it without fear of coercion, intimidation or violence.

This is an unequivocal principle that governments and civil society, with religious communities in the lead, must endorse and reflect in legislation, directives and codes of conduct. Above all, this principle needs to inform the educational systems of public and private schools, social organizations and religious communities. The genuine spirit of the human rights system along with a basic sense and respect for the dignity of every human person require Governments, religious communities and the whole of civil society to adopt this conviction and act accordingly, if we want to ensure peaceful coexistence and cooperation in a globalized world.

A second clear component underlying the abovementioned religious tensions stems from its very strategy aimed at destroying not only places of worship, but also the educational, humanitarian and social structures run by communities of different religions. Countering proselytism, even when not clearly pursued, is often invoked as a motive and reason for those criminal acts. Rather, they originate from the ideology of fundamentalism which is concerned with and hostile to any other social force working at empowering the poor by promoting and defending their dignity and freedom.

For some time now, this Committee has seen an increased focus on the protection of religions from statements or actions which are perceived to defame religious symbols and institutions. The concept of defamation of religions arises from the belief that certain religious ideas and figures deserve protection by the State in order to ensure that the sensibilities of religious adherents are not offended. In a multicultural and interconnected society appropriate measures must be taken to guarantee respect for the various faith traditions.

However, in the current international context the notion of defamation of religions risks removing the focus from a basic right of individuals and groups to the protection of institutions, symbols and ideas. Furthermore, it can lend itself locally to support laws which penalize religious minorities and stifle legitimate dialogue among persons of different faiths and cultures.

My delegation is wholly supportive of the need to protect believers from hate speech and acts against their convictions. We think that such protection can best be achieved by effectively implementing the right of individuals and communities to religious freedom as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil, Cultural and Political Rights and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief.

What is more, the United Nations’ specific and primary responsibility vis-à-vis religion is to debate, elucidate and help States to fully ensure, at all levels, the implementation of the right to religious freedom as affirmed in the UN relevant documents.

Thank you Mr Chairman.

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