Kamis, Oktober 18, 2007

Freedom of Religion; An Introduction

Freedom of religion is a guarantee by a government for freedom of belief for individuals and freedom of worship for individuals and groups. It is generally recognized to also include the freedom not to follow any religion. Freedom of religion is considered by many in many nations and people to be a fundamental human right.[1]

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. In the Middle Ages, toleration of Judaism was a contentious issue throughout Christendom. Today, there are concerns about the persecution of religious minorities in Islamic states (for example the persecution of Bahá'ís and the status of religious freedom in Iran) and in atheistic 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 in Turkey[2] or banning the Quran in United States courts where a Bible is allowed[3]) 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).

For individuals, religious toleration generally means an attitude of acceptance towards other people's religions. It does not mean that one views other religions as equally true; merely that others have the right to hold and practice their beliefs. Proselytism can be a contentious issue; it can be regarded as an offense against the validity of others' religions, or as an expression of one's own faith.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the 58 Member States of the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, 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.


* 1 History

o 1.1 Freedom of religion In Antiquity

o 1.2 History of Freedom of Religion in Europe

o 1.3 History of Freedom of Religion in the United States

o 1.4 History of Freedom of Religion in Asia

* 2 Contemporary Debates

o 2.1 Islam

o 2.2 Christianity

o 2.3 "Right to Change" or "Propagation" of religion

o 2.4 Religious Practice vs. Secular Law

o 2.5 International law

* 3 US foreign relations

* 4 Timeline

* 5 Literature

* 6 References


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.

Freedom of religion In Antiquity

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 declaration 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.

History of Freedom of Religion in Europe

The cross of the war memorial and a menorah for Hanukkah coexist in Oxford.

The cross of the war memorial and a menorah for Hanukkah coexist in Oxford.

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 and Muslims 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. Ulrich 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 territores. 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.

A U.S. Postage Stamp commemorating religious freedom and the Flushing Remonstrance.

A U.S. Postage Stamp commemorating religious freedom and the Flushing Remonstrance.

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 Holland, 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.

History of Freedom of Religion in the United States

The early colonies, although many of them 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.

"Save Freedom of Worship". American World War II poster

"Save Freedom of Worship". American World War II poster

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 was written in 1779 by Thomas Jefferson. It 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."

History of Freedom of Religion in Asia

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 concern 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:

King Piyadasi (Ashok) dear to the Gods, honours all sects, the ascetics (hermits) or those who dwell at home, he honours them with charity and in other ways. But the King, dear to the Gods, attributes less importance to this charity and these honours than to the vow of seeing the reign of virtues, which constitutes the essential part of them. For all these virtues there is a common source, modesty of speech. That is to say, One must not exalt one’s creed discrediting all others, nor must one degrade these others Without legitimate reasons. One must, on the contrary, render to other creeds the honour befitting them.

Religious freedom and the right to worship freely was a practice that had been appreciated and promoted by most ancient India dynasties. This had been the underlying attitude of most rulers of India since this period from before 300 B.C. 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.

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 2:256) 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 contemporary Islamic societies.

In Iran, the constitution recognizes four religions whose status is formally protected: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.[4] The constitution, however, also set the groundwork for the institutionalized persecution of Bahá'ís,[5] 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.[4] In Egypt, a 16 December 2006 judgment of the Supreme Administrative Council created a clear demarcation between recognized religions — Islam, Christianity and Judaism — and all other religious beliefs;[6][7] no other religious affiliation is officially admissible.[8] 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.[8] 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.[8] See Egyptian identification card controversy.


Part of the Oscar Straus Memorial in Washington, D.C. honoring the right to worship.

Part of the Oscar Straus Memorial in Washington, D.C. honoring the right to worship.

Most Christians - whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant or other - support religious freedoms[citation needed]. The Roman Catholic Church affirmed religious freedom for all in the Second Vatican Council Declaration Dignitatis Humanae. This was itself inspired by the work of the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray. Some Orthodox Christians, especially those living in democratic countries, support religious freedom for all, as evidenced by the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Many Protestant Christian churches, including some Baptists, Churches of Christ and the Seventh-day Adventist Church and main line churches have a commitment to religious freedoms. The Mormons (Latter-Day Saints) 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." [9]

"Right to Change" or "Propagation" of 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. [10]

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."[11]

the (human) rights regime incorrectly assumes a level playing field by requiring that African religions compete in the marketplace of ideas. The rights corpus not only forcibly imposes on African religions the obligation to compete—a task for which as nonproselytizing, noncompetitive creeds they are not historically fashioned—but also protects the evangelizing religions in their march towards universalization … it seems inconceivable that the human rights regime would have intended to protect the right of certain religions to destroy others.

Some Indian scholars have similarly argued that the right to propagate religion is not culturally or religiously neutral.[12]

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.

Religious Practice vs. Secular 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, for instance, 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 finally 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 those professing belief in no religion which includes Humanist, atheist, rationalist, and agnostic beliefs.

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.


* 313- Constantine I becomes the first Christian Emperor and ends persecution of Christians in The Roman Empire

* 1549 - first English Act of Uniformity

* 1571 January 11 - religious toleration was granted to Austrian nobles;

* 1573 January 28 - Warsaw Confederation granting religious toleration;

* 1598 April 13 - King Henry IV of France issued the Edict of Nantes, allowing religious toleration of the Huguenots;

* 1609 July 6 - Bohemia was granted religious toleration;

* 1657 April 20 - New Amsterdam granted religious toleration to Jews;

* 1685, October - the Edict of Fontainebleau was issued, revoking the Edict of Nantes and making Protestantism illegal in France.

* 1689, Act of Toleration - England

* 1791, 1st amendment to US Constitution instituted separation of church and state in the US;

* 1829 April 13 - British Parliament granted Catholic Emancipation in the spirit of religious toleration;

* 1864 - In the Syllabus of Errors, Pope Pius IX condemned as an error the belief that "[e]very man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true." (Pope Pius IX. (1864). Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862; Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.

* 1965 December 7 - Dignitatis Humanae: "This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom (...) the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself"

* 1988 April 29 - in the spirit of Glasnost, Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev promised increased religious toleration.


* Barzilai, Gad (2007). Law and Religion. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-2494-3. .

* Beneke, Chris (2006-09-20). Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-530555-8. .

* Curry, Thomas J. (1989-12-19). Church and State in America to the Passage of the First Amendment. Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 19, 1989). 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).

* Hamilton, Marci A. (2005-06-17). God vs. the Gavel : Religion and the Rule of Law, Edward R. Becker (Foreword, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-85304-4. .

* Hanson, Charles P. (1998). Necessary Virtue: The Pragmatic Origins of Religious Liberty in New England. University Press of Virginia. 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

* McLoughlin, William G. (1971) New England Dissent: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

* Murphy, Andrew R. (July 2001). Conscience and Community: Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-02105-5. .

* Mutua, Makau (2004). Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief, A Deskbook. 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


1. ^ Davis, Derek H.. The Evolution of Religious Liberty as a Universal Human Right. Retrieved on 2006-12-05.

2. ^ The Islamic veil across Europe. BBC News. Retrieved on 2006-12-02.

3. ^ North Carolina faith leaders supporting Quran oath. News & Record North Carolina. Retrieved on 2006-12-02.

4. ^ a b International Federation for Human Rights (2003-08-01). Discrimination against religious minorities in Iran. fdih.org. Retrieved on 2006-10-20.

5. ^ Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (2007). A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran. Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Retrieved on 2007-03-03.

6. ^ Mayton, Joseph (2006-12-19). Egypt's Bahais denied citizenship rights. Middle East Times. Retrieved on 2007-01-23.

7. ^ Otterman, Sharon (2006-12-17). Court denies Bahai couple document IDs. The Washington Times. Retrieved on 2007-01-23.

8. ^ a b c Nkrumah, Gamal (2006-12-21). Rendered faithless and stateless. Al-Ahram weekly. Retrieved on 2007-01-23.

9. ^ Mutua, Makau. 2004. Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief, A Deskbook. Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

10. ^ US State Department report on Greece

11. ^ Mutua, Makau (2004). Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief, A Deskbook. Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

12. ^ The Conversion War and Religious Freedom. Sankrant Sanu (2005-12-02). Retrieved on 2006-12-03.

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