Is there Religious Freedom without Human Freedom?
Protection for religions is not religious liberty…
Religious Liberty is a gift from God (pdf). It is not the result of any act of toleration or concession on the part of the state… or of another religion.
In 1986, at the initiative of the US, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights appointed an independent expert, or Special Rapporteur, to investigate and report on violations of the internationally-protected right to freedom of religion or belief around the world. The Special Rapporteur has recognized that international human rights law and the freedom of religion:
(This right) protects individuals, not religions or belief systems; and the individual right to freedom of religion or belief does not include the right to have one’s religion or belief be free from criticism.
Freedom of religion and belief is the right of an individual to his/her own belief:
(This right) protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The term Belief and religion are to be broadly construed. The right is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religion.
There are, however, serious challenges to the individual concept of freedom of religion and belief within the United Nations and across the world.
There is an attempt to change the definition of freedom of religion to one that protects religions (rather than individuals) from alleged defamation. The shift to protect religions would violate key principles that promote individual freedom of religion and belief. Within the United Nations the Islamic Council has pushed for a “religions defamations protection” concept – citing instances of unacceptable ridicule of Islam from press, editorial cartoons and others.
As an individual human right, freedom of religion and belief protects adherents of any religion or belief, including newly established religions and minority religions that can be subject to hostility by the predominant or majority religion in any country. Under a legal rule against defamation of religions, these adherents would not be protected and, in fact, could be subject to sanctioned persecution or legal repression.
In 2007 it appeared that some countries might seek to abolish the mandate for freedom of religion and belief or change its focus from individual belief to the purported right of religion itself to be protected from alleged defamation. Protecting religions from defamation is often justified in the name of promoting religious tolerance, but in fact, it promotes intolerance and human rights violations.
There is a place for civil discourse about all religions and belief. However, the principle of civil discourse and the goal of anti-defamation is no substitute for liberty of conscience and the right of each individual to freedom of religion and belief.
The measure of freedom is not the comfort of the majority, but the security of the minority. The Baptist voice for individual religious liberty has been a great legacy. It may also be a great call from God to voice our commitment to this freedom for all in the 21st century world.