The leader of the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations in Geneva has advocated a form of religious freedom that does not require “complete secularization” but sees religion as a “bridge” to human rights. He also criticized laws against “defamation” as vague and open to abuse targeting religious minorities.
Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, addressed the Human Rights Council on Monday. His remarks responded to the follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration.
“Increasing instances of ridiculing religion, of lack of respect for religious personalities and symbols, of discrimination and killings of followers of minority religions, and a generalized negative consideration of religion in the public arena damage peaceful coexistence and hurt the feelings of considerable segments of the human family,” he explained.
Religious freedom should protect the personal and collective exercise of faith and convictions, he continued. Furthermore, religious values are “a bridge for and to all human rights” by allowing a person to orient himself or herself to “what is true and real.”
Human dignity is “rooted in the unity of the spiritual and material components of the person,” Archbishop Tomasi added.
“The respect of everyone’s right to religious freedom does not require the complete secularization of the public sphere or the abandonment of all cultural traditions nor does the respect of freedom of expression authorize lack of respect for the values commonly shared by a particular society.”
He denied that the state can become “an arbiter of religious correctness” by deciding on theological or doctrinal issues, saying this itself would deny the right to religious freedom.
The prelate said the “vague concept of ‘defamation’” used to combat offensive attitudes towards religion moves way from the universality of humanity and is not a support for an effective and satisfactory solution.
“There is the additional real risk that the interpretation of what defamation entails may change according to the censor’s attitude towards religion or belief, often at the tragic expense of minorities,” he cautioned, stating that this is the unfortunate case in states that do not distinguish between civil and religious matters.
States that identify with a particular religion or a certain sect interpret defamation according to their own convictions and “inevitably” discriminate against citizens who do not share those convictions. The concept of “defamation of religion” will only lead to further oppression of religious minorities, he argued.
“The Holy See calls upon the member-countries of this respected Council to transform these unfortunate incidents of religious intolerance and the culture that underlies them into an opportunity for a new engagement to dialogue and for the reaffirmation of the right and value of belonging to a community of faith or belief,” Archbishop Tomasi concluded.