Holy See Defends Religious Liberty as Basic

Calls for Rooting Respect in Human Rights

GENEVA, MARCH 30, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Respect for religion and religious freedom are two complementary elements that need each other, the Holy See said in an intervention before the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations at Geneva, made this comment March 22 to the Ordinary Session of the council.

“A major contribution of the council is an approach that is inclusive and consistent with existing provisions in human rights instruments and declarations that clearly support, among other rights, freedom of religion, of expression, of conscience, of worship in private and in public, and respect of religious convictions for believers of all faiths and for nonbelievers alike,” the archbishop explained.

But, he added: “The Holy See delegation observes with preoccupation the emergence of an apparent dilemma between respect due to religions and the right to religious freedom as if they were incompatible and mutually exclusive aspects.”

While acknowledging that “there have been sad episodes of religious fanaticism with tragic social results,” Archbishop Tomasi asserted that “religions are among those social factors that, together with science, have most contributed to the progress of humanity through the promotion of cultural, artistic, social and humanitarian values.”

Unjust defamation

“The legitimate criticism of certain forms of behavior of followers of a religion should not turn into insult or unjust defamation nor into offensive mockery of its revered persons, practices, rites or symbols,” the prelate said. “Respect for the rights and dignity of others should mark the limit of any right, even that of the free expression and manifestation of one’s opinions, religious ones included.

“One cannot consider the ridicule of the sacred as a right of freedom. In the full respect of the right of expression, mechanisms or instruments need to be developed, coherent with the human rights provisions that would defend the message of religious communities from manipulation and would avoid a disrespectful presentation of their members.”

Archbishop Tomasi stated that a truly democratic state values religious freedom as a fundamental element of the common good.

“If the discussion focuses only on religious tolerance and defamation of religion, it limits the range of rights and the contribution that religions offer,” he concluded. “A comprehensive approach, that sees respect of religion rooted in the freedom that every human person is entitled to enjoy in a balance of rights with others and with society, appears as the reasonable way forward.”

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