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.

Nothing raises hackles quite like talking about religion. It is deeply personal and yet so often we are in each others’ faces about it. For some, it is terribly offensive that others do not experience the divine as they do, or worse, do not experience it at all. Wars have been fought over religion. Entire populations wiped out (the genocide of the Americas’ indigenous people was largely justified using religion.) Almost every religion has mandated disenfranchising at least one segment of the population. Very often, one of those is half the population of the planet: women. Religious organizations have, often successfully,  demanded excluding those that disagree with them from the public discourse.

It is something we will never be able to completely agree upon. People within the same sect rarely agree about everything. Yet some over the years have been unable to accept that. Given the horrors we have visited one another over the years in the name of faith, I am a little surprised that it took the men and women (OK, men) of the United Nations until the 18th Article to address it. Perhaps they thought if they tabled it just a little while, cooler heads would prevail. Obviously they did enough for this to be accepted into the Declaration, just not enough for religion to no longer be doing damage.

Please do not mistake me. While I am a non-believer myself I have known far too many decent, loving people who critically reflect on their beliefs to paint all, or even a large minority of believers, with a broad brush. In my adult life however I have seen physicians gunned down, thousands murdered in terrorist attacks, and a portion of people in a country founded in part on religious freedom denied their basic human rights.  Around the world some people live in theocracies, or monarchies supported by religion. Religious tolerance varies in these countries, but just the fact that one faith is given favor over others creates an oppressive atmosphere for those that do not share the official faith. Sometimes the oppression is much more obvious.

Religion can be a wonderful source of inspiration. I have been fortunate enough to know many people for whom their faith is a call to treat all human beings, even those that do not share their belief set, as brothers and sisters. It is a deeply personal relationship with the divine that no one should infringe upon or foist upon another. Sometimes it is difficult to see when seeking to avoid the former does the latter. We will not always succeed in this, but for all the reasons mentioned above we should always try. Article 18 was the first time when a truly diverse group of individuals did so.


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