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What is religious freedom?

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB) is an essential human right that allows individuals the freedom to hold a personal or shared set of beliefs and practices. FORB is protected at every level of government, most importantly in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 18 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 27.

Article 18: 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 (1948).

Article 27: In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language (1976).

These two clauses of international policy illustrate the multifaceted definition of freedom of religion or belief. It includes the freedom of thought and conscience which includes holding a belief system. Some mistakenly think that beliefs equate to organized religion, however, freedom of religion includes the freedom to not believe and hold beliefs outside of organized religion as we know it.

There are restraints on freedom of religion if it interferes or threatens another person's personal freedom. For example, a claimed religious belief in robbing banks would not be protected by international law. Thus, the beauty of freedom of religion or belief is that it creates a safe environment for all to practice, worship, observe, teach, think and believe according to the dictates of their own conscience.

Freedom of religion or belief is also inherently connected to other human rights such as the right to speak freely, assemble, print, and teach. When freedom of religion or belief is protected, so are other essential human rights. Upholding these freedoms is the essence of the work of Bellwether International.

The following video was produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and illustrates another perspective on the importance of religious freedom and how we can protect it.

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