.- The leader of the Holy Seeâs delegation to the United Nations in Geneva has advocated a form of religious freedom that does not require âcomplete secularizationâ but sees religion as a âbridgeâ to human rights. He also criticized laws against âdefamationâ 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.
âIncreasing 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,â he explained.
Religious freedom should protect the personal and collective exercise of faith and convictions, he continued. Furthermore, religious values are âa bridge for and to all human rightsâ by allowing a person to orient himself or herself to âwhat is true and real.â
Human dignity is ârooted in the unity of the spiritual and material components of the person,â Archbishop Tomasi added.
âThe respect of everyoneâs 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.â
He denied that the state can become âan arbiter of religious correctnessâ by deciding on theological or doctrinal issues, saying this itself would deny the right to religious freedom.
The prelate said the âvague concept of âdefamationââ 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.
âThere is the additional real risk that the interpretation of what defamation entails may change according to the censorâs attitude towards religion or belief, often at the tragic expense of minorities,â 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 âinevitablyâ discriminate against citizens who do not share those convictions. The concept of âdefamation of religionâ will only lead to further oppression of religious minorities, he argued.
âThe 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,â Archbishop Tomasi concluded.