Religious Freedom as a Human Right

August 13th, 2012 2:20 pm

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters…use your freedom to serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13

From 25 to 30 May, 2009, participants from throughout Eastern Europe gathered for the WSCF-E Lingua Franca seminar, Religious Freedom as a Human Right, in Lviv, Ukraine. Lectures, bible studies, discussions, case studies, and training sessions throughout the week examined many questions: How can we work for the religious freedom of those we disagree with? In what hidden and public ways do authorities restrict religious freedom? What can we, as young people, do to work for the religious freedom of our neighbours in Europe and beyond? What methods can we use to effectively raise our voices through nonviolent activism?

We learned from stories of those present, whose religious freedoms had been restricted. All were challenged by the activism and bravery of those working directly for the religious freedom of others. I will never forget one of the participants sharing “My husband was arrested for attending an event like this once and spent ten days in jail when he got home”. Two participants from the same country chimed in immediately, “We would do ten days for this”. How brave these activists were, and what a challenge they presented to the rest of us.

On the final day of the seminar, the participants preformed a skit they created on the topic; street theatre being one example of a method to raise public awareness. In the beginning of the skit, a tree representing religious freedom stands firmly rooted. Then, when a Muslim women’s veil is violently removed while praying, the tree becomes shaky. A young Christian crosses herself as she prays and is grabbed to prevent her from completing the prayer. The tree becomes shakier still. A Buddhist is then forced to stop meditating, and the tree is in danger of falling. All three people, whose rights were violated, unite around the tree. In a circle, together, their oppressor is no longer able to prevent them from practising their faiths, and the tree is firmly rooted once again.

This skit left all with an impression of hope. In response to this same hope and the discussions throughout the week, all joined together to create this statement on religious freedom. Together, standing in solidarity, we can work for the freedom of our neighbours and a better world.

– Rachael Weber, WSCF-E Lingua Franca Coordinator

 Statement on Religious Freedom from WSCF Europe Lingua Franca

As a diverse community of European Christian youth, we gather with a variety of visions but share the following common convictions:

Supporting the definition of religious freedom, as defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we believe that it is our responsibility to work for the religious freedom and equality of all humans to choose, practice, and share their faith. We stand in solidarity with those who are struggling for religious freedom and with all vulnerable groups.

Recognising that religious freedom is a human right, and as such is inalienable, we must respect the rights of those we do not agree with. We affirm the rights of minority religious groups – though we may be in the majority today, tomorrow we may be in the minority somewhere else or even at home. Our belief and hope is that the more we ensure the rights of others, the more our own rights will be ensured.

Faith should not be used as a political tool of manipulation. Although people of faith have the responsibility to be engaged in politics and society, we condemn political manipulation of churches by governments and political parties.

Religious freedom must be respected at all levels of society, in governments, courts, civil society, churches and schools. Hate speech fuels discrimination and violence, and it permeates politics, the church and the media and should be identified and condemned. We have a responsibility to educate and raise awareness about religious freedom – intolerance is often caused by lack of education and knowledge on these issues.

We have the responsibility to be aware of the situation of religious freedom in our homes, communities, nations, and world and we must not be silent when we become aware of violations.

We must continually work for religious freedom. Throughout our societies, in Europe and beyond, the freedom of many groups and individuals are violated. We want to raise specific attention to the situation in Belarus, where the instrument of law is used as a tool of oppression against churches, minority religious groups, and generally against all who are struggling for their human rights.

These rights and responsibilities apply to all and tolerance should be promoted in levels of life. . Diversity is our wealth. We are called to action, in government and non-governmental organisations, in our churches, universities, and societies. We challenge our churches, communities, and nations to join us in our commitment to work for religious freedom.

May the God of freedom and truth, Christ who was persecuted, and the liberating Holy Spirit inspire the growth of religious freedom and tolerance in our world.

WSCF Europe
Lingua Franca Seminar
“Religious Freedom as a Human Right”
Lviv, Ukraine from 25- 30 May, 2009

Printable version available: Religious Freedom Statement

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