THE "ethnic cleansing" of Muslims in Bosnia. Clashes between
Sikhs and Hindus in India. The bitter strife between Catholics and
Protestants in Northern Ireland. And in the United States, the
denial of permission for Jews to build synagogues or Muslims to
construct mosques in some neighborhoods.
From one corner of the globe to another, religious worshipers
are being killed, tortured, dislocated, or denied liberties because
of their beliefs.
Although religious-rights abuses have occurred throughout the
centuries, some scholars say they have reached new pinnacles in the
world today despite the crumbling in the past decade of many
authoritarian regimes that repressed religious believers. At the
same time, there is a growing recognition among religious followers
that religious human rights are not taken seriously by the
"The human-rights revolution is passing religion by," says
John Witte, Jr., director of the law and religion program at Emory
University in Atlanta, and co-organizer of a recent international
conference here on religious human rights that drew clerics,
politicians, academics, and activists from many faiths.
"Religious human rights are integral to the advancement of all
other human rights because of their intimate grounding in the
nature and sacredness of the human person," said James Wood, Jr.,
director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at
Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who addressed the conference.
They include, he said, "the inherent right of a person in public
or in private to worship or not worship according to one's own
conscience, understanding, or preferences; to profess and to
propagate one's faith; to join in association with others of like
faith; and to change one's religious identity - all without
hindrance, molestation, or discrimination."
Why are religious rights being bypassed when religion is
considered important to so many people?
Professor Witte cites several reasons. Religion, he says, is
private, and wrapping it in a discussion of rights or law seems to
violate that premise. Also, people of different faiths often can't
agree on what rights should be enjoyed. For example, many
Christians believe in the right to proselytize, while many Jews
think proselytizing is anathema. "You can go through example after
example where you see questions of rights protection for religious
groups to be the nerve center of conflict . …