Freedom of religion

Freedom of religion

Freedom of religion is the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. It is generally recognized to also include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any religion. Freedom of religion is considered by many in many nations and people to be a fundamental human right. cite web
title=The Evolution of Religious Liberty as a Universal Human Right
first=Derek H.

In a country with a state religion freedom of religion is generally considered to mean that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state religion, and does not persecute believers in other faiths.

Today there are concerns about the persecution of religious minorities in the Muslim world and in some communist states such as China and North Korea, as well as other forms of intolerance in other countries, for example banning the wearing of prominent religious articles such as the Muslim veil in some contexts in European countries. cite web|url=|title=The Islamic veil across Europe
accessdate=2006-12-02 |publisher=BBC News
Freedom of religion as a legal concept is related to, but not identical with, religious toleration, separation of church and state, or "laïcité" (a secular state).

Where individuals and not governments are concerned, religious toleration is generally taken to refer to an attitude of acceptance towards other people's religions. Such toleration does not require that one view other religions as equally true; rather, the assumption is that each citizen will grant that others have the right to hold and practice their own beliefs. Against this backdrop proselytism can be a contentious issue, as it could be regarded as an offense against the validity of others' religious beliefs, including the belief in no religion at all.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by fifty of the Member States of the United Nations General Assembly on December 10 1948, with eight abstentions, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France defines freedom of religion and belief as follows: "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."

History of freedom of religion

Historically "freedom of religion" has been used to refer to the tolerance of different theological systems of belief, while "freedom of worship" was defined as freedom of individual action. Each of these have existed to varying degrees. While many countries have accepted some form of religious freedom, this has also often been limited in practice through punitive taxation, repressive social legislation, and political disenfranchisement. Compare examples of individual freedom in Italy or the Muslim tradition of dhimmis, literally "protected individuals" professing an officially tolerated non-Muslim religion.


In Antiquity a syncretic point-of-view often allowed communities of traders to operate under their own customs. When street mobs of separate quarters clashed in a Hellenistic or Roman city, the issue was generally perceived to be an infringement of community rights. The Greek-Jewish clashes at Cyrene provided one example of cosmopolitan cities as scenes of tumult.

Some of the historical exceptions have been in regions where one of the revealed religions has been in a position of power: Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. Others have been where the established order has felt threatened, as shown in the trial of Socrates or where the ruler has been deified, as in Rome, and refusal to offer token sacrifice was similar to refusing to take an oath of allegiance. This was the core for resentment and the persecution of early Christian communities.

The first law of religious freedom was established in the ancient Persian Empire by its founder Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC, as stated in his Cyrus cylinder.

Freedom of religious worship was established in the Maurya Empire of ancient India by Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BC, which was encapsulated in the Edicts of Ashoka.


See: religious freedom in Canada


The Norman Kingdom of Sicily under Roger II was characterised by its multi-ethnic nature and religious tolerance. Normans, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Longobards and "native" Sicilians lived in harmony. [ [ Roger II - Encyclopædia Britannica] ] [ [ Tracing The Norman Rulers of Sicily] ] Rather than exterminate the Muslims of Sicily, Roger II's grandson Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1215—1250) allowed them to settle on the mainland and build mosques. Not least, he enlisted them in his — Christian — army and even into his personal bodyguards. [ [ Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor] ]

The General Charter of Jewish Liberties known as the Statute of Kalisz was issued by the Duke of Greater Poland Boleslaus the Pious on September 8 1264 in Kalisz. The statute served as the basis for the legal position of Jews in Poland and led to creation of the Yiddish-speaking autonomous Jewish nation until 1795. The statute granted exclusive jurisdiction of Jewish courts over Jewish matters and established a separate tribunal for matters involving Christians and Jews. Additionally, it guaranteed personal liberties and safety for Jews including freedom of religion, travel, and trade. The statute was ratified by subsequent Polish Kings: Casimir III of Poland in 1334, Casimir IV of Poland in 1453 and Sigismund I of Poland in 1539.

The first full religious freedom law (which wasn't just a tolerance as in other countries) what had "act rank" created by Edict of Turda in Transylvania , and accepted by hungarian székely and Saxon part of the diet.

After the fall of the city of Granada Spain in 1492 the Muslim population was promised religious freedom by the Treaty of Granada, but that promise was short-lived. In 1501 Granada's Muslims were given an ultimatum to either convert to Christianity or to emigrate. The majority converted, but only superficially, continuing to dress and speak as they had before and to secretly practice Islam. The Moriscos (converts to Christianity) were ultimately expelled from Spain between 1609 (Castile) and 1614 (rest of Spain), by Philip III.

The Roman Catholic Church kept a tight rein on religious expression throughout the Middle Ages. Jews were alternately tolerated and persecuted, the most notable examples of the latter being the expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492. Some of those who remained and converted were tried as heretics in the Inquisition for allegedly practicing Judaism in secret. Despite the persecution of Jews, they were the most tolerated non-Catholic faith in Europe.

However, the latter was in part a reaction to the growing movement that became the Reformation. As early as 1380, John Wycliffe in England denied transubstantiation and began his translation of the Bible into English. He was condemned in a Papal Bull in 1410, and all his books were burned.

In 1414 Jan Hus, a Bohemian preacher of reformation, was given a safe conduct by the Holy Roman Emperor to attend the Council of Constance. Not entirely trusting in his safety, he made his will before he left. His forebodings proved accurate, and he was burned at the stake on July 6 1415. The Council also decreed that Wycliffe's remains be disinterred and cast out. This decree was not carried out until 1428.

Martin Luther published his famous 95 Theses in Wittenberg on October 31 1517. His aim was to stop the sale of indulgences and reform the Church from within, but this was not the result. In 1521 he was given the chance to recant at the Diet of Worms before Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, then only 19. After he refused to recant he was declared heretic. Partly for his own protection, he was sequestered on the Wartburg in the possessions of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, where he translated the New Testament into German. He was excommunicated by Papal Bull in 1521.

The Protestant movement, however, continued to gain ground in his absence and spread to Switzerland. Huldrych Zwingli preached reform in Zürich from 1520 to 1523. He opposed the sale of indulgences, celibacy, pilgrimages, pictures, statues, relics, altars, and organs. This culminated in outright war between the Swiss cantons that accepted Protestantism and the Catholics. The Catholics were victorious, and Zwingli was killed in battle in 1531. The Catholic cantons were magnanimous in victory.

In the meantime, in Germany Philip Melanchthon drafted the Augsburg Confession as a common confession for the Lutherans and the free territories. It was presented to Charles V in 1530.

The defiance of Papal authority proved contagious, and in 1533, when Henry VIII of England was excommunicated for his divorce and remarriage to Anne Boleyn, he promptly established a state church with bishops appointed by the crown. This was not without internal opposition, and Thomas More, who had been his prime minister, was executed in 1535 for opposition to Henry.

In 1535 the Swiss canton of Geneva became Protestant, but the Protestants often proved as intolerant of differences of opinion as the Catholics. In 1536 the Bernese imposed the reformation on the canton of Vaud by conquest. They sacked the cathedral in Lausanne and destroyed all its art and statuary. John Calvin, who had been active in Geneva was expelled in 1538 in a power struggle, but he was invited back in 1540.The same kind of seesaw back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism was evident in England when Mary I of England returned that country briefly to the Catholic fold in 1553. However, her half-sister, Elizabeth I of England was to restore the Church of England in 1558, this time permanently. The King James Bible commissioned by King James I of England and published in 1611 proved a landmark for Protestant worship.

However, intolerance of dissident forms of Protestantism continued, as evidenced by the exodus of the Pilgrims who sought refuge, first in the Netherlands, and ultimately in America, founding the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620. William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia was involved in a case which had a profound effect upon future American law and those of England. In a classic case of jury nullification the jury refused to convict William Penn of preaching a Quaker sermon, which was illegal. Even though the jury was imprisoned for their acquittal, they stood by their decision and helped establish the freedom of religion.

In the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V agreed to tolerate Lutheranism in 1555 at the Peace of Augsburg. Each state was to take the religion of its prince, but within those states, there was not necessarily religious tolerance. Citizens of other faiths could relocate to a more hospitable environment.

In 1558 the Transylvanian Diet of Turda declared free practice of both the Catholic and Lutheran religions, but prohibited Calvinism. Ten years later, in 1568, the Diet extended the freedom to all religions, declaring that "It is not allowed to anybody to intimidate anybody with captivity or expelling for his religion". The Edict of Turda is considered by mostly Hungarian historians as the first legal guarantee of religious freedom in the Christian Europe.

In France, although peace was made between Protestants and Catholics at the Treaty of Saint Germain in 1570, persecution continued, most notably in the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day on August 24 1572, in which many Protestants throughout France were killed. It was not until the converted Protestant prince Henry IV of France came to the throne that religious tolerance was formalized in the Edict of Nantes in 1598. It would remain in force for over 80 years until its revocation in 1685 by Louis XIV of France. Intolerance remained the norm until the French Revolution, when state religion was abolished and all Church property confiscated.

In 1573 the Warsaw Confederation formalized, in the newly formed Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the freedom of religion that had a long tradition in the Kingdom of Poland. The first extensive Jewish emigration from Western Europe to Poland occurred at the time of the First Crusade in 1098. Under Boleslaus III (1102–1139), the Jews, encouraged by the tolerant régime of this ruler, settled throughout Poland, including over the border into Lithuanian territory as far as Kiev. The Tatars who settled in Lithuania, Ruthenia and modern-day eastern Poland were allowed to preserve their Islamic religion in exchange for military service.

Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic) enjoyed religious freedom between 1436 and 1620, and became one of the most liberal countries of the Christian world during that period of time. The so-called Basel Compacts of 1436 declared the freedom of religion and peace between Catholics and Utraquists. In 1609 Emperor Rudolf II granted Bohemia greater religious liberty with his Letter of Majesty. The privileged position of the Catholic Church in the Czech kingdom was firmly established after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Gradually freedom of religion in Bohemian lands came to an end and Protestants fled or were expelled from the country. A devout Catholic, Emperor Ferdinand II forcibly converted Austrian and Bohemian Protestants.

United States

: "See also: Freedom of Religion in the United States"

Some of the early colonies, which were founded as a result of religious persecution, were not tolerant of dissident forms of worship. For example, Roger Williams found it necessary to found a new colony in Rhode Island to escape persecution in the theocratically dominated colony of Massachusetts.

It was not until the 18th century that Enlightenment concepts of freedom of individual worship gained ground both in Europe and America.

The modern legal concept of religious freedom as the union of "freedom of belief" and "freedom of worship" with the absence of any state-sponsored religion, originated in the United States of America.

This issue was addressed by Thomas Paine in his pamphlet, "Common Sense" (1776):: "As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith…"

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written in 1779 by Thomas Jefferson, proclaimed:: " [N] o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." "


Freedom of religion in the Indian subcontinent is exemplified by the reign of King Piyadasi (304 B.C to 232 B.C) (Asoka). One of King Asoka's main concerns was to reform governmental institutes and exercise moral principles in his attempt to create a just and humane society. Later he promoted the principles of Buddhism, and the creation of a just, understanding and fair society was held as an important principle for many ancient rulers of this time in the East.

The importance of freedom of worship in India was encapsulated in an inscription of Asoka:

Religious freedom and the right to worship freely was a practice that had been appreciated and promoted by most ancient India dynasties. As a result, people fleeing religious persecution in other parts of the world including Christians, Jews [History of Jews in India] and Zoroastrians fled to India as a place of refuge where they could enjoy religious freedom. This had been the underlying attitude of most rulers of India from until 1200 AD.

The initial entry of Islam into South Asia came in the first century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. When around 1210 AD the Islamic Sultanates invaded India from the north-east, gradually the principle of freedom of religion deteriorated in this part of the world. They were subsequently replaced by another Islamic invader in the form of Babur. The Mughal empire was founded by the Mongol leader Babur in 1526, when he defeated Ibrahim Lodi, the last of the Delhi Sultans at the First Battle of Panipat. The word "Mughal" is the Indo-Iranian version of Mongol.

On the main Asian continent, the Mongols were very tolerant of religions. People could worship as they wished freely and openly.

Contemporary debates

The contemporary idea of religious freedom as a human right remains a contested topic. The major areas of debate are listed below.


Some Islamic theologians quote the Quran ("There is no compulsion in religion," Sura 2:257, and "Say: O you who reject faith, I do not worship what you worship, nor do you worship what I worship...To you be your religion, and to me be mine," Sura 109:1-6) to show scriptural support for religious freedom. However, other verses and the Hadith mandate severe treatment for unbelievers, which is reflected in the high levels of intolerance shown in many past and contemporary Islamic societies, and some Muslim scholars have disagreed with such ill-treatment. The slaughtering of Pagans, Christians and Jews was during the time of war (Battle of Badr) only against those who wish to harm the Muslims, and some Muslims support the practice of executing apostates who leave Islam, as in Bukhari:V4 B52 N260; "The Prophet said, 'If a Muslim discards his religion, kill him.". In Sura 5:3, believed to be the last of God's revelation to Muhammad, is states that Muslims are to fear God and not those who reject Islam, and 53:39 every one is accountable only to one's own actions.

In Iran, the constitution recognizes four religions whose status is formally protected: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.cite web |date=2003-08-01 |title=Discrimination against religious minorities in Iran |author=International Federation for Human Rights | |accessdate=2006-10-20 |url=] The constitution, however, also set the groundwork for the institutionalized persecution of Bahá'ís,cite web | author= Iran Human Rights Documentation Center |publisher=Iran Human Rights Documentation Center | title= A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran | date= 2007 |accessdate=2007-03-03|url=] who have been subjected to arrests, beatings, executions, confiscation and destruction of property, and the denial of civil rights and liberties, and the denial of access to higher education. In Egypt, a December 16 2006 judgment of the Supreme Administrative Council created a clear demarcation between recognized religions — Islam, Christianity and Judaism — and all other religious beliefs;cite web |url= |title=Egypt's Bahais denied citizenship rights |first=Joseph |last=Mayton|publisher=Middle East Times |date=2006-12-19 |accessdate=2007-01-23] cite web |title=Court denies Bahai couple document IDs |first=Sharon |last=Otterman |publisher=The Washington Times |date=2006-12-17 |accessdate=2007-01-23 |url=] no other religious affiliation is officially admissible.cite web |title=Rendered faithless and stateless |first=Gamal |last=Nkrumah |url= |publisher=Al-Ahram weekly |date=2006-12-21 |accessdate=2007-01-23] The ruling leaves members of other religious communities, including Bahá'ís, without the ability to obtain the necessary government documents to have rights in their country, essentially denying them of all rights of citizenship. They cannot obtain ID cards, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage or divorce certificates, and passports; they also cannot be employed, educated, treated in public hospitals or vote, among other things. See Egyptian identification card controversy.


) also affirm religious freedom.

However others, such as African scholar Makau Mutua, have argued that Christian insistence on the propagation of their faith to native cultures as an element of religious freedom has resulted in a corresponding denial of religious freedom to native traditions and led to their destruction. As he states in the book produced by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief -- "Imperial religions have necessarily violated individual conscience and the communal expressions of Africans and their communities by subverting African religions." [ Mutua, Makau. 2004. Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief, A Deskbook. Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief. ]

In fact, the belief of some Christians that non-Christians need to be converted to Christianity in order to be "saved" may be regarded as an affront to the religious freedom of those who follow other faiths or identify as atheists. Because of this prevalent belief among Christians, Christianity has been said to be inherently counter to religious freedom, and many Christians have denounced this proselytizing aspect of their faith. [cite book |last=Bell |first=Rob |title=Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith |publisher=Harpercollins |isbn= 978-0310273080]

Changing religion

Among the most contentious areas of religious freedom is the "Right to Change" one's religion.

Other debates have centered around restricting certain kinds of missionary activity by religions. Many Islamic states, and others such as China, severely restrict missionary activities of other religions. Greece, among European countries, has generally looked unfavorably on missionary activities of denominations others than the majority church and proselytizing is constitutionally prohibited. [ [ US State Department report on Greece] ]

A different kind of critique of the freedom to propagate religion has come from non-Abrahamic traditions such as the African and Indian. African scholar Makau Mutua criticizes religious evangelism on the ground of cultural annihilation by what he calls "proselytizing universalist faiths." [cite book |last=Mutua |first=Makau |title=Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief, A Deskbook |year=2004 |publisher= Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief ]

Some Indian scholars [cite web |url= |title= Re-examining Religious Freedom|first=Sankrant|last=Sanu|publisher=Manushi |date=2006 |accessdate=2008-07-26] have similarly argued that the right to propagate religion is not culturally or religiously neutral.

In Sri Lanka there have been debates regarding a bill on religious freedom that seeks to protect indigenous religious traditions from certain kinds of missionary activities. Debates have also occurred in various states of India regarding similar laws, particularly those that restrict conversions using force, fraud or allurement.

ecular law

Religious practice may also conflict with secular law creating debates on religious freedom. For instance, even though polygamy is permitted in Islam it is prohibited in secular law in many Western countries. Does prohibiting polygamy then curtail the religious freedom of Muslims? The USA and India have taken two different views of this. In India polygamy is permitted, but only for Muslims, under Muslim Personal Law. In the USA polygamy is prohibited for all. This was a major source of conflict between the early Mormon Church and the United States until the Church amended its position on polygamy.

Similar issues have also arisen in the context of the religious use of psychedelic substances by Native American tribes in the United States as well as other Native practices.

International law

In international law the freedom of religion and belief is protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This protection extends to specifically non-religious beliefs, such as Humanism.

Children's rights

The law in Germany provides the term of “religious majority” ("Religionsmündigkeit") with a minimum age for minors to follow their own religious beliefs even if their parents don't share those or don't approve. Children 14 and older have the unrestricted right to enter or exit any religious community. Children 12 and older cannot be compelled to change to a different belief. Children 10 and older have to be heard before their parents change their religious upbringing to a different belief. [ [ Gesetz über die religiöse Kindererziehung] ] There are similar laws in Austria [ [ Bundesgesetz 1985 über die religiöse Kindererziehung] (pdf)] and in Switzerland [ [ Schweizerisches Zivilgesetzbuch Art 303: Religiöse Erziehung] ] .

US foreign relations

The United States formally considers religious freedom in its foreign relations. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 established the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom which investigates the records of over 200 other nations with respect to religious freedom, and makes recommendations to submit nations with egregious records to ongoing scrutiny and possible economic sanctions. Many human rights organizations have urged the United States to be still more vigorous in imposing sanctions on countries that do not permit or tolerate religious freedom.

Some critics charge that the United States policy on religious freedom is largely directed towards the rights of Christians, particularly the ability for Christian missionaries to evangelize, in other countries.Fact|date=June 2008

ee also

* Christian Solidarity Worldwide
* Dignitatis Humanae
* Flushing Remonstrance
* Forum 18
* Freedom of thought
* International Religious Liberty Association
* North American Religious Liberty Association
* Religious discrimination
* Religious persecution
* Religious toleration
* Separation of church and state
* Status of religious freedom by country
* State religion
* Warsaw Confederation (1573)

References and Notes

Further reading

* cite book
title= Law and Religion
date= 2007
publisher= Ashgate
id=ISBN 978-0-7546-2494-3
* cite book
title=Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism
publisher=Oxford University Press, USA
id=ISBN 0-19-530555-8
*cite book
first=Thomas J.
title=Church and State in America to the Passage of the First Amendment
publisher=Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 19, 1989)
id=ISBN 0-19-505181-5
* Frost, J. William (1990) "A Perfect Freedom: Religious Liberty in Pennsylvania" (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press).
* Gaustad, Edwin S. (2004, 2nd ed.) "Faith of the Founders: Religion and the New Nation, 1776-1826" (Waco: Baylor University Press).
* cite book
first=Marci A.
others=Edward R. Becker (Foreword
title=God vs. the Gavel : Religion and the Rule of Law
publisher=Cambridge University Press
id=ISBN 0-521-85304-4
*cite book
first=Charles P.
title=Necessary Virtue: The Pragmatic Origins of Religious Liberty in New England
publisher=University Press of Virginia
id=ISBN 0813917948
* Hasson, Kevin 'Seamus' , "The Right to be Wrong : Ending the Culture War Over Religion in America", Encounter Books, 2005, ISBN 1-59403-083-9
*cite book
first=William G.
authorlink = William G. McLoughlin
title=New England Dissent: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State"
format=2 vols.
publisher=Harvard University Press

*cite book
first=Andrew R.
title=Conscience and Community: Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America
month = July
publisher=Pennsylvania State University Press
id=ISBN 0-271-02105-5
*cite book |last=Mutua |first=Makau |title=Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief, A Deskbook |year=2004 |publisher= Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief
* Stokes, Anson Phelps (1950) "Church and State in the United States, Historic Development and Contemporary Problems of Religious Freedom under the Constitution," 3 Volumes (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers).
*Stokes, DaShanne (In Press). [ Legalized Segregation and the Denial of Religious Freedom]
* Associated Press (2002). [ Appeals court upholds man's use of eagle feathers for religious practices]
* [ American Indian Religious Freedom Act] (1978)
* [ Policy Concerning Distribution of Eagle Feathers for Native American Religious]
* [ "Ban on Minarets: On the Validity of a Controversial Swiss Popular Initiative (2008), "] , by Marcel Stuessi, research fellow at the University of Lucerne.

External links

* [ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in particular Article 18)] from the Human Rights Library
* [ The Complexity of Religion and the Definition of “Religion” in International Law] Harvard Human Rights Journal article from the President and Fellows of Harvard College(2003)
* [ Human Rights Brief No. 3, Freedom Of Religion and Belief] Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC)
* [ Forum 18 News Service] - Reports, country surveys and commentaries from Forum 18, a Norwegian international religious freedom news service
* [ ReligiousLiberty.TV] - News and commentary on current topics involving freedom of religion
* [ U.S. State Department country reports]
* [ 2008 Annual Report] of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

*cite web
title=Religious Liberty: The legal framework in selected OSCE countries.
month = May
publisher=Law Library, U.S. Library of Congress

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