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U.N. Religious Freedom Anniversary

Voice of America . This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. The document recognizes the right of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This includes the right to worship freely, establish humanitarian institutions, perform rites, observe holidays, publish and teach religious views without discrimination by other groups or governments.

The struggle for these rights is on-going, said U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom John Hanford. “Our continued vigilance on religious freedom is desperately needed,” he said.

The 2006 annual U.S. State Department report on religious freedom makes this clear. Authoritarian governments suppress religious expression as a threat to political dominance. Others allow limited religious expression, but severely repress the activities of religious groups that are not state-sanctioned. In certain countries, minority religions are marked for abuse or deemed “a security threat” or “terrorist group”. Repressive registration laws are widely used to restrict or outlaw non-approved religions. All over the globe, men, women, and children are still suffering for their religious beliefs.

In an event at the U.S. State Department commemorating the U-N declaration on religious freedom, U-N Rapporteur Asma Jehangir [juh hahn geer] said, “the advances have been slow and reluctant.” She said, “We have seen highly educated societies behave in highly intolerant forms against religious freedom.” It is the responsibility of governments, she said, to foster tolerance and prevent the promotion of religion-based hatred.

Nations that respect individual religious beliefs serve as bulwarks against extremism and conflict. The U-N declaration on freedom of conscience recognizes that religious persecution has often “brought, directly or indirectly, wars and great suffering to mankind.” That is why people must have the right “to believe and practice and worship” as they choose, says U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.