Separation of Religion or Belief & State



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Issue: Tolerance for Diversity of Religion or Belief

For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society

Review: Global Restrictions on Religion, Pew Charitable Trusts, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, December 2009.

Direct Link to Full 72-Page Report:


Article 18 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

General Comment 22 on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

The 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief:

The 1981 UN Declaration is unique; a one of a kind Human Rights Concordat between nations and all religions or beliefs.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the great moral statements of the 20th century, could not have been clearer. It says that “everyone has a right to freedom of thought, conscious and religion” including the right to change religion and to “manifest his religion in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”


For more than half a century, the United Nations and numerous international organizations have affirmed the principle of religious freedom.1 For just as many decades, journalists and human rights groups have reported on persecution of minority faiths, outbreaks of sectarian violence and other pressures on religious individuals and communities in many countries. But until now, there has been no quantitative study that reviews an extensive number of sources to measure how governments and private actors infringe on religious beliefs and practices around the world.


Global Restrictions on Religion, a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that 64 nations – about one-third of the countries in the world – have high or very high restrictions on religion. But because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities. Some restrictions result from government actions, policies and laws. Others result from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups.


The highest overall levels of restrictions are found in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, where both the government and society at large impose numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices. But government policies and social hostilities do not always move in tandem. Vietnam and China, for instance, has high government restrictions on religion but are in the moderate or low range when it comes to social hostilities. Nigeria and Bangladesh follow the opposite pattern: high in social hostilities but moderate in terms of government actions.


Documents Attached:

Global Restrictions on Religion

The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.  

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the first Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum; “Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.”

In 1968 the UN deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance because of the sensitivity and complexity of reconciling a human rights treaty with dissonant worldviews and voices on religion or belief. Instead, in 1981 the United Nations adopted a non-binding Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief in support of Article 18:

Separation of Religion or Belief and State reflects the far-reaching scope of UN General Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1993, UN Human Rights Committee.

Inclusive and genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief are between people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. It calls for open dialogue on: awareness, understanding, acceptance; cooperation, competition, conflict; respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs.

 Human rights protect freedom of religion or belief; religion or belief does not always protect human rights. In this respect human rights trump religion to protect individuals against all forms of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief by the State, institutions, groups of persons and persons. After forty years suffering, violence and conflict based on belief has increased in many parts of the world.  UN options may be to gradually reduce such intolerance and discrimination or call for a new paradigm deferred since 1968.

It is time for the UN to draft a legally binding International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief: United Nations History – Freedom of Religion or Belief.