Magazine article UN Chronicle

Freedom of Faith ... Freedom of the Mind

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Freedom of Faith ... Freedom of the Mind

Article excerpt

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18

Fifty years ago, a group of ambitious minds collaborated to create a document that would set a standard for guaranteeing individual human rights. This document emerged as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The American delegate, Eleanor Roosevelt, brought the American heritage of the Bill of Rights and blended it with the complex and diverse ideas brought by drafters from around the world. One of the most fundamental human rights addressed in both documents is tile freedom of religion. It is addressed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights and in Article 18 of the Declaration. The underlying principle of both documents is that no Government should be allowed to infringe on the thoughts and beliefs of an individual. Perhaps the most significant difference between the Bill of Rights and the Declaration is that the Bill of Rights carries the force and penalties of law. The courts must first determine if the threatened religious belief is "sincerely held", and, if so, balance the burden on the individual with the interest of the State.

Article 18 of the Declaration promotes freedom of religion in a different way, protecting religious freedoms through the power of world opinion and moral persuasion, setting a standard for the United Nations and other organizations.

In 1993, the United Nations Human Rights Committee completed a General Comment which specifically recognizes the application of Article 18 to new religions. The Committee found that: "Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions." The 1981 resolution on the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief establishes a Special Rapporteur to act against religious discrimination; to communicate with the State concerning the religious violation; to visit countries with alleged problems and analyze the situation; and to work toward the definitive goal of religious tolerance.

Communication is achieved through correspondence. …

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