Separation of Religion or Belief and State





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Issue:  The Need for Open and Inclusive Dialogue on Freedom of Religion or Belief at local levels in France, United States and Qatar.    


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


Review: For a French Imam, Islam’s True Enemy is Radicalism, by Stephen Erlanger, New York Times: 13 February 2010; U.S. Envoy to be Link to Islam, by Helene Cooper, New York Times: 14 February 2010; Qatar- Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief.  


Excerpts: “Asked if the choice to wear the full veil was not also an expression of freedom, Mr. Chalghoumi said simply, ‘Freedom has limits,’ adding: If some acts of freedom stir hatred; it’s not good. And will it show the good side of Islam? I don’t think so. One has to respect the feelings of others.”  “Mr. Chalghoumi dismisses the criticism. What frightens him are ignorance and radicalism.”


“He supports what is constitutionally unacceptable in secular France-voluntary religious education in secular schools. “When it comes to teaching Islam, if we don’t do it ourselves, others will,” he said. “They will take our children.”


This New York Times article points to on-going differences at international, national and local levels on freedom of religion or belief, in this case, between Islam and the West. At the International level this is most visibly demonstrated by the votes on defamation of religions, freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. Sweden speaking on behalf of the European Union made this statement:


UN Vote on Defamation of Religions:


“Before taking action, the representative of Sweden spoke in explanation of vote, saying she had called for a vote on behalf of the European Union.  Their position on the draft was based on its strong belief in tolerance, non-discrimination, and freedom of expression, thought, religion or belief.  “They believed that continuous dialogue could help overcoming gaps in perceptions, concepts and ideas.  They shared the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s concern that people were routinely victimized on the grounds of religion or belief, and that more needed to be done to deal with persons who incited violence or hatred through legal means.  But, they could not agree with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on the concept of defamation of religion as a response to such discrimination, because it would limit freedom of expression and might endanger the atmosphere of tolerance that would enable people of different religions or beliefs to coexist without fear.”  Vote on Defamation of Religions


The UN Human Rights Council by a vote of 23 for, 11 against and 13 abstaining passed a UN Resolution on Combating Defamation of Religion (A/HRC/10/L.2/Rev.1) on 26 March, 2009.


Mr. Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, Pakistan Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, spoke at a Parallel meeting in the tenth session of the UN Human Rights Council. The Parallel meeting was sponsored by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty: “10 years of Defamation of Religions: Is there an alternative?” Mr. Siddiqui speaking on behalf the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) expressed this tension: We are dealing with two worlds that have totally different world views.”


U.S. Secretary of State Clinton’s Remarks at Islamic World Forum


Over 300 Muslim and Western government officials, business people, scholars, and religious figures were in attendance this week at the U.S. - Islamic World Forum sponsored by the government of Qatar and the U.S. based Brookings Institution.


From: National Report Qatar UPR: Hosting global conferences


“Qatar’s efforts to contribute effectively to international moves to promote and protect human rights flow from the principles enshrined in the national Constitution and, in particular, from Qatar’s commitment to respect international instruments and covenants and endeavour to implement all the international agreements to which it is party. The Constitution requires foreign policy to be guided by the principles of consolidating peace and security, respect for human rights, renunciation of violence and the use of force, encouraging the peaceful settlement of international disputes and cooperation with peace loving nations. In this context, it should be pointed out that Qatar has a policy of openness towards hosting global conferences on development issues, democracy, human rights and promoting a culture of peace. It hosted the Second Global Conference on Financing for Development and also hosts the annual Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade, the Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue and the US-Islamic -World Forum. It hosted the Sixth International Conference of New or Restored Democracies, the second meeting of the High Level Group for Alliance of Civilizations, the Second Conference of National Human Rights Institutions in the Arab World and the Second Forum on Democracy and Political Reform in the Arab world” (Attachment).


The Tandem Project question is whether participants in this Interfaith Forum referred to human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief, to ensure they are understood and available to all people at national and local levels. Rights-based values, when embedded in human rights law, are protection against all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief. Freedom of religion or belief is an inviolable principle of democracy and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


It is an encouraging sign that the Qatar government in the National Report will revisit becoming a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and consider removing restrictions on some other international human rights treaties. Qatar also is host since 2009 to the offices of the United Nations Human Rights Training & Documentation Center for South-west Asia and Arab Region.


Qatar still outlaws proselytism by non-Muslims and the penalty may be up to ten years in prison. They restrict public worship and conversion from Islam is still considered Apostasy.


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.  


1981 UN Declaration:  Articles Relevant to New York Times Story.


Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.


To make, acquire and use to an adequate extent the necessary articles and materials related to the rites and customs of a religion or belief;


Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians; the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.


The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for the freedom of religion or belief of others and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men.


UN Human Rights Committee General Comment 48 on Article 18 of the ICCPR


Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms "belief" and "religion" are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.


Attachments: For French Imam, Islam’s True Enemy is Radicalism and U.S. Envoy to be Link to Islam; Freedom of Religion or Belief – a Mandate without Consensus; Qatar – Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief