Religion and Human Rights Can Co-Exist

By Longhurst, John | Winnipeg Free Press, October 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

Religion and Human Rights Can Co-Exist


Longhurst, John, Winnipeg Free Press


In Hong Kong, the faithful play key role in rally for freedom

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is finally open. It's a magnificent building for a magnificent mission: to promote the idea that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

One of those rights is the right to religion. According to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the freedom to change religion or belief, and the freedom to worship, believe, teach or practise religion any way they want.

Unfortunately, far too many people today don't enjoy those freedoms. In some countries, it is illegal to convert to another faith. In other countries, people are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and killed for their beliefs. This includes Christians in Iraq, Baha'is in Iran, Falun Gong in China and Muslims in Myanmar, to name a few.

But that's not our problem -- right? Denying people rights based on religion only happens in other places, not in Canada.

Not so fast say critics, noting there are religious groups in Canada that deny women the opportunity to be clergy, that preach that only their group is right or will get to heaven, or that exclude people who are gay.

And that's the dilemma. What do you do when the rights of one group conflict with the rights of another? When it involves religiously inspired violence and death, the answer is simple: It's wrong. But what if it involves what some say is discrimination or hate speech, but which others view as faithful adherence to doctrine? That's trickier to sort out.

But if religion poses some challenges for human rights, it may also be able to help advance the cause. That's the view of Larry Cox, former executive director of Amnesty International USA.

In an essay titled Human Rights Must Get Religion on the web forum Open Democracy, Cox notes that while the idea of human rights "may require a secular presentation," the power of the human rights movement "comes from its inherent religious dimensions."

Noting that many of the world's struggles for freedom and dignity were led by people of deep faith, he suggests that faith is important because it often gives believers "the moral inspiration, the popular legitimacy, and the internal strength to endure great suffering. As a result, faith-based action has been, and still is, one of the most important forces undermining repressive political systems everywhere. …

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Religion and Human Rights Can Co-Exist
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