The Freedom of religion reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Freedom of religion

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Freedom of religion is the individual's right or freedom to hold whatever religious beliefs he or she wishes, or none at all. This freedom extends mere freedom of thought by adding the freedom of worship and the freedom of religious congregation, and has become regarded in the 20th century as one of the basic human rights.

Most importantly, the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) affirms the freedom to change religions.

The struggle to reach that point in the aftermath of World War II was a Christian struggle. Freedom of religion was the normal rule in Antiquity, where a syncretic point-of-view identified strange deities as foreigners' acceptable conceptions of more familiar gods. A community of traders could expect to be autonomous in a city under their own laws, with freedom to worship their own gods. When the street mobs of separate quarters clashed in a Hellenistic or Roman city, the issue was generally a perceived infringement of some community's rights. The Greek-Jewish clashes at Cyrene provide a disastrous example, but all the cosmopolitan cities were the scene of tumults.

Some of the historical exceptions have been in regions where one of the revealed religions has been in a position of power: Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. Others have been where the established order has felt threatened, as shown in the trial of Socrates or where the ruler has been deified, as in Rome or the Persian empire, and refusal to offer token sacrifice was similar to refusing to take an oath of allegiance. This was the core for resentment and the persecution of early Christian communities.

Freedom of religion in India was encapsulated in an inscription of Asoka:

"King Piyadasi (Ashok) dear to the Gods, honours all sects, the ascetics (hermits) or those who dwell at home, he honours them with charity and in other ways. But the King, dear to the Gods, attributes less importance to this charity and these honours than to the vow of seeing the reign of virtues, which constitutes the essential part of them. For all these virtues there is a common source, modesty of speech. That is to say, One must not exalt oneÒs creed discrediting all others, nor must one degrade these others Without legitimate reasons. One must, on the contrary, render to other creeds the honour befitting them.Ô

During history some countries have accepted some form of freedom of religion, though in actual practice that theoretical freedom was delimited through punitive taxation, repressive social legislation and political disenfranchisement. Compare examples of individual freedom in Poland or the Muslim tradition of dhimmis, literally "protected individuals" professing an officially tolerated non-Muslim religion. These protections, being highly selective and advanced to communities rather than individual, could also be withdrawn. They were examples of the ruler's beneficence, not inalienable rights.

In most parts of European society there was no individual freedom of religion from the suppression of non-Christian worship with the Theodosian decrees of 391 AD, under the influence of Ambrose of Milan until the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Even 16th century edicts of toleration (Augsburg, Nantes) left little room for individual freedom of conscience, under the principal of cuius regio eius religio ("to each region, its own religion"), and did not extend toleration to small powerless minorities, like Anabaptists.

Earlier, the ideas of religious tolerance on the political level were invented in the Central Europe: Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Hungary and Austria and were practised since the 16th century. With the expulsion of Polish brethren accused of high treason during the Deluge, the Central European ideas of tolerance were propagated to the Netherlands. Until the Enlightenment it was widely accepted, however not always fully implemented:

On the other side of the ledger, In 1944 a joint committee of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and the Foreign Missions Conference of North America, formulated a ÓStatement on Religious LibertyÔ

ÓReligious Liberty shall be interpreted to include freedom to worship according to conscience and to bring up children in the faith of their parents; freedom for the individual to change his religion; freedom to preach, educate, publish and carry on missionary activities; and freedom to organise with others, and to acquire and hold property, for these purposes.Ô

The Separation of Church and State and laïcité are related, but different concepts.

Table of contents
1 Controversies in freedom of religion
2 See also
3 External links

Controversies in freedom of religion

See also

External links