The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Freedom of religion

Freedom of religion is a modern legal concept of being free as a matter of right, while freedom of worship is based upon the free expression of that right. Religious toleration by a state is a legal theory founded upon endurance and the absence of that basic freedom, because a religion has been previously established by a state. Freedom of religion as a universal legal concept has a recent legal history that originated with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the 58 Member States of the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France. This subject is closely related to the legal concepts of separation of church and state and la´citÚ where the state regulates society in general, but it does not stipulate either the beliefs or political ideology of its individual citizens and protects the individual rights of its citizens to form their own opinions.


Modern origin and definition

Historically "freedom of religion" has been used by academia to define different theological systems of belief, while "freedom of worship" was originally defined as individual action in the second of Four Freedoms outlined as part of the greater text of the 1941 State of the Union address to the United States Congress by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This speech, which delivered prior to the USA joining the United Nations Fighting Forces ("Allies") in World War II and prior to their conversion into the United Nations Organization.

The origin of President Roosevelt's address is found in the First Amendment to the United States Bill of Rights, which had been previously influenced by the non-sectarian wording of the United States Declaration of Independence with its reference to the "Laws of Nature" and Nature's God". It does not refer to any sectarian religion. It was in this same spirit that President Thomas Jefferson had taken a pair of scissors to the Four Gospels and removed all supranatural references to create his own book of ideals which others have republished over the years as Jefferson's Bible. Consequently the USA has become a nation of many religious institutions which flourish under the freedom of legal protection by local, state and federal governments.

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt personally dedicated herself to the task of carrying forward these same freedoms to her preparation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to the UN official explanation, Mrs. Roosevelt chaired the Human Rights Commission during in its first years to answer the question: "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?"

Again, according to the same UN official explanation, the question posed by Eleanor Roosevelt was answered this way:

In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a statement of intent requiring individual member nations to implement laws to turn an ideal theory into practical jurisprudence. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

According to Article 18, "freedom of religion" is related to "freedom of belief", while "freedom of worship" requires the additional freedom of manifestation or action, individually; in community with others, in public or in private. This manifestation is further defined as incorporating teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Application by nations

Since all human beings exist as part of individual nations, their individual access to enjoyment of "freedom of religion" as defined by Article 18 is reflected by the history of individual nations with regards to their citizens.

Pre-1948 history

Prior to 1948 the concept of freedom of religion had never been accepted as a universal right and today many nations, while giving agreement to the theory, have difficulty in implementing this theory into law.


In Antiquity a syncretic point-of-view often allowed communities of traders to operate under their own customs. When street mobs of separate quarters clashed in a Hellenistic or Roman city , the issue was generally perceived to be a infringement of community rights. The Greek-Jewish clashes at Cyrene provided one example of cosmopolitan cities as scenes of tumult.

European Middle Ages

In Western Europe during most of the Middle Ages Roman Catholicism was the official religion. Roman Catholicism was practiced by both the rulers and almost all of their subjects with all other religious practices being prosecuted as heresy for which a typical penalty was burning at the stake. This lack of religious freedom resulted in various crusades, including one fought against the Albigeois. Jews were tolerated in most countries, but they suffered from various restrictions and repeated repression.

Following the Reformation, Wars of Religion erupted in many European countries between Catholic and Protestant factions. In most feudal countries the religion of the ruler was the official religion and other religions were either tolerated or persecuted.

King Henry IV of France was a Protestant who converted to Catholicism. He guaranteed limited freedom for Protestants which were repealed by his grandson Louis XIV. In all countries, whether Protestant or Catholic, criticism of Christianity or advocacy of atheism were prosecutable offenses.

In June 1789, the French Revolution brought about a dramatic change in perception of this subject with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The history of France at this point in time was greatly influenced by the development of the United States and its founding Declaration of Independence.

See also

External links

Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13