• 1er février 2013
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Religious freedom against Human Rights ?

Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on religious freedom

Is reli­gious free­dom a stum­bling block in the garden of Human Rights ? In prin­ci­ple, no one would dis­pute the arti­cle 18 of the Universal Declaration of 1948, which states that "eve­ryone has the right to free­dom of thought, cons­cience and reli­gion". But in fact, the inter­pre­ta­tion of this right is contro­ver­sial. Geneva for Human Rights, an NGO spe­cia­li­zing in trai­ning for human rights, orga­ni­zed a semi­nar on this issue on December 14th, which Points-Coeur has atten­ded.

We are faced with a para­dox, says Prof. Bielefeldt (Germany), Special Rapporteur on free­dom of reli­gion. In recent years, the right to reli­gious free­dom has led to both increa­sed inte­rest and grea­ter skep­ti­cism, inclu­ding within the United Nations com­mu­nity. "Is it a right just like the others ? Do we really need it ?" some people seem to sug­gest. The Special Rapporteur said that he had even heard this strange ques­tion : "What must come first ? Religious free­dom or human rights ?" As if reli­gion was sepa­ra­ted from humans, won­de­red the pro­fes­sor.

It must be said, as recal­led by Adrien-Claude Zoller, orga­ni­zer of the event, that if this right is at the fore­front in recent years, it is because of the contro­versy over free­dom of expres­sion (“defa­ma­tion of reli­gions") and racial dis­cri­mi­na­tion ("isla­mo­pho­bia"), where it is invo­ked more for poli­ti­cal pur­po­ses than for real defense of free­dom of belief. In addi­tion, given the res­tric­tions that plague us throu­ghout the world (Christianophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are all too common), the inter­na­tio­nal rules of reli­gious free­dom are redu­ced to a mini­mum.

One of the chal­len­ges of reli­gious free­dom is its loca­tion at the inter­sec­tion of the indi­vi­dual and the col­lec­tive. Religion has an intrin­si­cally com­mu­nity aspect ; the­re­fore, the ques­tion arises as to which is pro­tec­ted by law. Only the indi­vi­dual – without consi­de­ra­tion of the social expres­sion of reli­gion or belief ? The group ? The reli­gion itself, inclu­ding its sacred books and monu­ments ?

Prof. Bielefeldt, howe­ver, wants to go beyond the dis­cus­sion of free­dom of reli­gion vs. free­dom of expres­sion : "Against Hate speech there must be more speech ! Not more noise, but more argu­ments, more exper­tise, and more signs of sym­pa­thy for the offen­ded com­mu­nity. "

Even more boldly, the Special Rapporteur refu­ses to endorse the see­min­gly irre­conci­la­ble disa­gree­ment bet­ween advo­ca­tes of reli­gious free­dom and LGBT lob­bies (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender). "The star­ting point must be the human in its com­plexity !” he says. You cannot remove one aspect of the person to sim­plify the equa­tion, espe­cially when this aspect tou­ches the depths of the human heart. "If we want to defend human beings, we must also defend their convic­tions." That is why, he said, "there can be no femi­nist agenda without consi­de­ra­tion of reli­gious free­dom.”

Lecture by Prof. Bielefeldt, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, Berlin, October 2010


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