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Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Expression Have Delicate Interplay, Says Holy See at UN

“the enjoyment of the freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right that cannot be simply brushed aside, as if our societies have moved beyond any religious belief or sentiment”

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There must be a delicate interplay between the two human rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Both are human rights — meaning everyone should have them. But “these freedoms, as with all rights, are to be understood within  the  framework  of  the  universality and  interdependence  of  all  fundamental human rights. The danger arises, however, when human rights are understood from  an approach that considers freedom as complete license or autonomy, the exercise of  one’s  freedom  without  any  reference  to  the  other  or  to  the  ‘obligation’  which  corresponds  to  the  right.”
This is some of the message in a March 9 intervention by Monsignor Richard Gyhra, of the Permanent Mission of the Holy See, given to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva at the 31 st Session of the Human Rights Council.
Here is the full text of the intervention:

Mr. President,
The  Special Rapporteur on  the  freedom  of  religion or belief has  provided us  with  a  rather  thought-provoking  Report  which  addresses  the  interplay  and  interconnectedness of this freedom with the freedom of expression. The ongoing and  world-wide  terrorist  attacks,  as  well  as  the  greater  relation  between  religion  and  tolerance, underscore  the necessity of reflecting upon these basic freedoms, of how  we approach and understand them, and the “rights” and “obligations” demanded by  them.  Studies  and statistics indicate  a  rather sober and  sad  reality  when  they  show  that limits and abuses of the freedom of religion or belief are continuing to increase in many countries. This trend is very alarming for the Holy See as it seems to indicate a  lack  of  political  will  on  the  part  of  the  different  Institutions  of  the  International  community to address the causes of such violence and  that there is a  long path that  lies ahead in the area of mutual understanding and dialogue. Often times, the public  reactions to these unfortunate and violent events drive a greater wedge between these  two  rights,  pushing  them  further  apart  as  if  they  are  opposite  rights  or  innately antithetical.  On the contrary, these freedoms, as with all rights,  are to  be understood within  the  framework  of  the  universality  and  interdependence  of  all  fundamental human rights. The danger arises, however, when human rights are understood from  an approach that considers freedom as complete license or autonomy, the exercise of  one’s  freedom  without  any  reference  to  the  other  or  to  the  “obligation”  which  corresponds  to  the  right.   As  the  Special  Rapporteur  notes,  “the  two  rights  under  discussion  here  are  rights  of  “everyone”  and  thus  held  by  all  human  beings  who  should be able to exercise them free from fear and free from discrimination… (they)  epitomize the principle of equality which underpins the human -rights approach as a  whole.”
Minimizing the essential role that religion has in  all societies will not be the  answer to the current challenges found in the interplay of these two freedoms. We  live  in  a  world  subject  to  the  “globalization  of  the  technocratic  paradigm,” which  consciously  aims  at  a  one-dimensional  uniformity  and  seeks  to  eliminate  all  differences  and  traditions  in  a  superficial  quest  for  unity.  Religions  thus  have  the right and the duty to make clear that it is possible to build a society where “a healthy  pluralism which respects differences and values them as such” is  a “precious ally in  the commitment to defending human dignity… and a path to peace in our troubled  world.” The tendency to globalization is not necessarily bad. On the contrary, if it  unites  us, it  can be noble.  However,  we are  all  aware  that  “globalization  makes  us  neighbors, but does not make us brothers”.
Therefore,  if this tendency pretends to  makes us all the same, it destroys the individuality of every person.  Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right which shapes the way we  interact,  alone  or  in  community,  with  our  neighbors  whose  religious  views  differ  from our own. Religious freedom is rooted in respecting the freedom of conscience.  By  its  very  nature  it  transcends  places  of  worship  and  the  private  sphere  of  individuals and families and seeks to build the common good of all persons. As Pope  Francis says, religious freedom allows us to seek “the truth and dignity of the human  person and human rights. In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to  suppress religious freedom,  or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice  in  the  public  square,  or  to  use  religion  as  a  pretext  for  hatred  and  brutality,  it  is  imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for  peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”
Mr. President,
For the Holy See,  freedom of religion and  freedom of speech  are called to coexist  as  fundamental  human  rights.  There  is  a  truth,  however,  that  must  not  be  overlooked;  namely, that everyone  has the right to practice his or her religion freely,  without offending others. Furthermore, we must not offend other believers, make war  or kill in the name of one’s own religion, in God’s name. “To kill in the name of God  is  an  aberration.  I  believe  that  this  is  the  most  important  thing  about  religious  freedom: to  exercise it in freedom, without offending, but also without imposing it or  killing for it.”
“Everyone not only has the freedom of expression, the right, but also  the obligation, to say what they think in order to promote the common good. We have  the obligation to speak openly, to enjoy this freedom, but without offending others.  We cannot provoke others, we cannot insult their faith, we cannot mock their faith.”
In this sense, there is a delicate interplay of these two fundamental rights that must be  carefully maintained by respecting the freedom of conscience of others, by exercising  our freedom in a responsible and respectful way, not as complete autonomy or license  but  rather  as  the  freedom  to  choose  what  is  truly  good  for  the  individual,  his  community and for the common good, and by treating others as we wish to be treated.
Another essential aspect to the respect for freedom of religion or belief and its  relationship with freedom of expression is the limitation that some forms of national  legislation impose by not permitting an open exercise of the freedom of religion, a  fundamental  human  right  as  articulated  in  the  Universal  Declaration  of  Human  Rights. For a diminution of violations of this essential right,  it is imperative that all  persons of all religious persuasions, or of no religion, are treated equally as citizens in  the fullest sense, without discrimination and  persecution because of their convictions  or beliefs.
Mr. President,
In  conclusion,  the  enjoyment  of  the  freedom  of  religion  or  belief  is  a  fundamental human right that cannot be simply  brushed aside, as if our societies have moved beyond any religious belief or sentiment. With many conflicts occurring at  the hands of some extremists, religion has unfortunately been portrayed as the culprit  that must be excised from modernity by way of the scalpel of freedom of expression.  This effort is not only misguided, but contrary to the nature of the human person.  In  fact,  freedom of religion and freedom of expression  cannot  exist  separately, for they  are interdependent and united.  Thus, they should  always  be  enjoyed together through  a reasonable and respectful exchange.
Thank you, Mr. President.
[Text from Vatican Radio]

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