Religious Freedom: A Universal Right Vital to the Protection of the Dignity of Difference
Freedom of religion or belief is one of the most effective tools modern societies have ever developed for dealing with the inevitable tensions of life in societies with free and diverse persons. It is the oldest of internationally protected human rights, and in many ways is the grandparent of all the others —though in our time it has too often been a neglected grandparent. While it is not a freedom without limits, it is capable of accommodating deeply different religious beliefs and life stances. Indeed, precisely because it protects the rights of individuals to live in accordance with their most deeply held beliefs about nature, moral obligations, and personal identity—that is, because it calls on everyone, universally, to respect these highly particularized differences—it provides a level of assurance for everyone that the core of their personal dignity will be protected. This provides a foundation not only for peace and stability, but also for a sense of appreciation and loyalty to others and to the state that helps guarantee these protections. In this paper, I hope to suggest that the universality of freedom of religion or belief (often referred to in what follows as “FoRB”) derives precisely from its respect for particularity, and that its recognition and protection of the dignity of difference is critical for identifying pathways that allow deep differences to coexist in stable and peaceful societies.