In our community in 2007 we held a prayer meeting for the freedom to believe. I asked four people to answer questions about their Faith in their mother tongue. These questions can be answered by anyone and can provide the basis for inter-faith dialogue because they deal with the individual’s own profession of faith without judgement of anyone. Here is a video of the outline of freedom to believe as a human right, and those responses in Persian, spanish, italian and english.
From the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations, 2005.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Article 18, explicitly affirms that, 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
Intimately connected with the freedom to hold and to change one’s religion or belief is the freedom to share those beliefs with others.
Some States argue that limiting the teaching of religions and the sharing of beliefs is necessary to preserve particular traditions and to protect the rights of the targeted populations, yet the right to freedom of religion or belief is necessarily contingent on the exposure to new ideas and the ability to share and receive information.
The protection of the freedom of religion or belief must also entail vigilance in safeguarding citizens from the forces of extreme orthodoxy. Incitement to violence, extremism, or hostility in the name of religion must be forcefully sanctioned and unreservedly condemned.
The actions of States therefore must go beyond purely material and practical considerations and be guided by the force of moral principles and the rule of law.
Foremost among these principles is that of unity −− at the local, national, and global level −− rounded in the peaceful accommodation of cultural diversity. States must discard outmoded notions of cultural homogeneity and ideological uniformity as a guarantor of peace and security and come to embrace a plurality of identities and beliefs, gathered together under the canopy of just laws and universal human rights, as the foundation for a cohesive and prosperous society.
In a world harassed by violence and conflict in the name of religion, leaders of religious communities bear tremendous responsibility for guiding their followers towards a peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding with those who think and believe differently.
We call on the United Nations to affirm unequivocally an individual’s right to change his or her religion under international law.
The Current Challenge facing the World in ensuring Freedom of belief
In September 2007, the Chair of the US Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF), has written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rize urging her to advocate a strong mandate for the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The mandate is currently under consideration by the UN Human Rights Council.
USCIRF is gravely concerned that the Human Rights Council is shifting its focus from promoting freedom of religion or belief to the prevention of what is being termed as “defamation of religion”. The letter explains: The supporters of this concept—typically governments that prohibit religious pluralism at home—claim that their aim is to promote religious tolerance. In practice, however, this approach seeks to suppress what these governments deem, often capriciously, to be “offensive” or “unacceptable” speech about a particular, favored religion, and even to justify violent reactions to this purportedly offensive speech.
Prohibitions on defamation of religion violate the principles outlined in international human rights instruments, which guarantee the right of everyone to freedom of expression as well as to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. They also improperly seek to protect groups at the expense of the rights of the individual. The Commission is deeply concerned by the growing campaign to internationalize these prohibitions, and we strongly urge the U.S. government to take the lead in opposing such measures, including by opposing attempts to include a focus on defamation of religion in the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.
Asma Jahangir, the current religious freedom Special Rapporteur, has commented that “…the protection of the rights of religious minorities is central to the mandate on freedom of religion or belief. It should not be compromised even if other members of the community engage in intolerant acts, including defamation of other religions.”
She has also pointed out that… “…international human rights law protects primarily individuals in the exercise of their freedom of religion and not religions per se.”
Furthermore, the right to freedom of religion or belief… “…does not include the right to have a religion or belief that is free from criticism or ridicule.”
Freedom of religion primarily bestows a right to act in accordance with one’s religion but does not bestow a right for believers to have their religion itself protected from all adverse comment.
Criminalizing defamation of religion could have a seriously deleterious impact on freedom of expression, a human right that is as essential to human freedom and development as is freedom of religion or belief. In fact, without freedom of expression we cannot fully claim our right to freedom of religion or belief, since that right also includes the freedom to tell other people about our religion or belief and to try to persuade them of the truth of what we believe.
What is the purpose of religion?
(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 81)And now concerning thy question regarding the nature of religion. Know thou that they who are truly wise have likened the world unto the human temple. As the body of man needeth a garment to clothe it, so the body of mankind must needs be adorned with the mantle of justice and wisdom. Its robe is the Revelation vouchsafed unto it by God. Whenever this robe hath fulfilled its purpose, the Almighty will assuredly renew it. For every age requireth a fresh measure of the light of God. Every Divine Revelation hath been sent down in a manner that befitted the circumstances of the age in which it hath appeared.
(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 95)We have erewhile declared — and Our Word is the truth — : “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”
(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 215) The Great Being saith: O ye children of men! The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 237)
..The road of the divine Kingdom involves the acquisition of praiseworthy attributes, heavenly illumination and righteous actions in the world of humanity. … This is the road of the holy Manifestations of God for they are in reality the foundation of the divine religion of oneness. There is no change or transformation in this pathway. It is the cause of human betterment, the acquisition of heavenly virtues and the illumination of mankind.
If this warfare and strife be for the sake of religion, it is evident that it violates the spirit and basis of all religion.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 245)