In December of 1948 The United Nations Assembly gathered in Paris to give the world The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This pivotal moment in history declared the following:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. (Article 18)
In 1948 the UN rightly recognized that freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a vital human right. But that was 64 years ago. How are we doing today? As our world becomes smaller, is this fundamental freedom shrinking with it?
Living between the major Midwest cities of Chicago and Milwaukee, this is a question I can’t help but contemplate. Pockets of rural living are few and far between, like islands of green in an ocean of concrete suburbia. This area has changed greatly over the years. What was a predominantly Catholic and European area has become a melting pot of ethnicities and religions. On my drive to Chicago alone I pass by Catholic, Protestant, Baha’i, Muslim, Mormon, Sikh, and Jewish places of worship.
Religious diversity is the new norm as we live in an ever-increasing global society, bringing with it many benefits. Yet it also comes with challenges. With religious diversity come distinct beliefs and worldviews that often contradict each other. It leads to unrest when a public figure shares his or her religious beliefs on marriage. It’s seen in one man’s imprisonment because he will not recant his beliefs in favor of the state appointed religion. It rears its ugly head when men, women, and children are physically, emotionally, and economically persecuted for their core beliefs. These challenges lead to a question: How do we live with “our deepest differences when those differences involve core beliefs, worldviews, and ways of life, and when they are increasingly found within single communities, nations, and civilizations?”
Sadly, the freedom we all want is often neglected, by us as well as various nations and societies across the globe. A recent Pew forum’s findings are sobering:
“Three quarters of the world’s population live in countries where there is a high degree of menace to their faith – sometimes through government repression, sometimes through sectarian violence, and sometimes through the mounting culture wars that we are now seeing in Western countries.”
Current global events show that while the world affirms Article 18 in word, it often ignores and violates the principle in practice.
In June of this year the Global Charter of Conscience was written in response to these growing challenges. The Charter is a declaration that reaffirms and supports Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Drafted by people of many faiths, no faith, and various political persuasions, the Charter’s purpose is to “advance the cause of freedom of thought, conscience and religion for people of all faiths, religious or naturalistic.” It has three goals.
- First, that it will be a beacon expressing the highest human aspirations for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
- Second, that it will be a benchmark enabling the most rigorous assessments of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, which communities, countries, and civilizations have achieved so far.
- Third, that it will be a blueprint empowering the most practical implementation of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, in both law and civic education.
The Charter has much to say that we need to listen to. I urge you to read it for yourself. You can do so by clicking here.
To hear Os Guinness’ lecture introducing the Charter click here.
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is not something abstract and irrelevant. It touches the core of our being, impacting us individually, locally, nationally, and globally. Whether you are a Muslim in Iran, a Jew in New York, a Buddhist in Tibet, or a Catholic in Chicago, this Charter is for you. Let us hope and pray that it not only reaffirms and supports Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but spurs us to live it.