Right to religious freedom “litmus test” for respect of other rights: Pope

Pope John Paul II commended the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe today for its commitment to ensure the basic human right to religious freedom but he also warned against legislation that promotes religious indifference and relativism, justified by a “mistaken understanding of tolerance.”

“From the start of the Helsinki process, the participating states have recognized the international dimension of the right to religious freedom and its importance for the security and stability of the community of nations,” he said.

The defence of this right, founded on the dignity of the human person, is “in a certain sense … the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights,” the pope told OSCE members in a private audience at the Vatican today. The OSCE had recently held a conference on freedom of religion.

The pope expressed his appreciation for these efforts and encouraged the OSCE to continue in this undertaking.

“It is true that many young people today grow up without being aware of the spiritual heritage that is theirs. Despite this, the religious dimension does not cease to influence vast groups of citizens,” he said.

“Therefore, it is important that, while respecting a healthy sense of the state’s secular nature, the positive role of believers in public life should be recognized. This corresponds, among other things, to the demands of a healthy pluralism and contributes to the building up of authentic democracy, to which the OSCE is truly committed,” the pontiff continued.

The pope also added that when governments are “disciplined and balanced in the expression of their secular nature, dialogue between the different social sectors is fostered.” This leads to the promotion of “transparent and frequent co-operation between civil and religious society,” which benefits the common good, he said.

“Just as damage is done to society when religion is relegated to the private sphere, so too are society and civil institutions impoverished when legislation — in violation of religious freedom — promotes religious indifference, relativism and religious syncretism, perhaps even justifying them by means of a mistaken understanding of tolerance,” he said.

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