Religious Freedom Struggling, Says Holy See

Warns Against Misguided Hate Crime Laws

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NEW YORK, OCT. 29, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Sixty years after the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even the most fundamental right to freedom of religion has yet to be realized, says the Holy See.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, told the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly today that “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion […] continues to face serious challenges and breaches in a number of regions around the world.”

“Members of all religions are being persecuted in many parts of the globe,” he continued. “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.”

The Holy See representative said the attacks also 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.”

“Individuals must be able not only to practice their faith but also to change or uphold it without fear of coercion, intimidation or violence,” Archbishop Migliore added.

The archbishop said that “to ensure peaceful coexistence and cooperation in a globalized world,” the right to freely practice one’s religion must be accepted by governments and the institutions of society, namely schools 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,” he said.

Archbishop Migliore also lamented the justification of crimes such as destroying places of worship and faith-based educational, humanitarian and social structures as an effort to counter proselytism.

He said these acts actually “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.”

Defamation

Regarding hate crimes, the archbishop reminded the assembly: “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,” he continued, “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.”

Archbishop Migliore warned that this trend could reverse the original intent, and therefore “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,” he affirmed. “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.”

The archbishop concluded saying that the United Nations’ primary duty with regard to religious freedom “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 U.N. relevant documents.”

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Full text: www.zenit.org/article-24099?l=english

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