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State and religion best served by “respectful distance”

UN expert: State and religion best served by maintaining “respectful distance”

GENEVA (2 March 2018) – The degree of States’ entanglement with, or disengagement from, religion or belief has far-reaching implications on how the right to freedom of religion or belief is upheld, said the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed.

“States that either enforce or restrict religion are both motivated to establish a monopoly for their ideologies that involve coercion or discrimination,” the expert said. “Everyone, whether belonging to the majority or minority religious communities, including the converts and non-believers, women, children and LGBTI persons are bound to be affected in these States in their rights to freedom of religion or belief.”

In a report to the Human Rights Council, Shaheed identified three broad types of relationships between State and religion as the basis to discuss the challenges that States face in promoting and protecting freedom of religion or belief: States with official or favoured religions, States with no identification towards a specific religion and States that pursue policies to heavily restrict the role of religion.

“Although international law does not prescribe any particular form of relationship between State and religion, it does impose a duty on the State to be an impartial guarantor of freedom of religion or belief to all,” he said.

“No model of relationship between State and religion is sufficient to guarantee freedom of religion or belief to all, however, the model that is most frequently co-related with respect for freedom of religion or belief for all is when the State and religion maintain a “respectful distance” in terms of law and public policy, and respect pluralism and promote social inclusion,” Shaheed said.

“What is most crucial is that national religion laws conform to international standards on freedom of religion or belief, that there is respect for the rule of law, the protection and promotion of the equal enjoyment of all human rights by everyone, and a social and political commitment to fostering pluralism,” he said.

“Respect for freedom of religion or belief is closely related to the degree of tolerance and respect for diversity within a society,” added the Special Rapporteur. “Other human rights like freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association cannot flourish if freedom of religion or belief is violated.

“I strongly encourage states to facilitate interfaith communication and invest in increasing the literacy on religions and freedom of religion or belief.”

The Special Rapporteur also presented reports on his country visits to Albania and Uzbekistan at this session.


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