[PDHRE logo]
The Human Right to Freedom of Religion
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education
PDHRE Home

Human Rights
apply to:

the aged
children
development
differently abled
discrimination
education
environment
ethnicity
food
health
housing
indigenous peoples
livelihood & land
migrant workers
minorities
peace & disarmament
poverty
race
refugees
religion
reproductive health
sexual orientation
women
work & workers

Human Rights & Religion | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Human Rights and Religion

What is the Human Right to Freedom of Religion?

Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. These fundamental human rights are explicitly set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief and other widely adhered to international human rights treaties and Declarations.

The Human Rights at Issue

  • The Human Right to Freedom of Religion includes the following indivisible, interdependent and interrelated human rights:

  • The human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

  • The human right to manifest one=s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

  • The human right to freedom from discrimination based on religious beliefs or activities, or because of refusal to conform to a certain religion.

  • The human right to freedom of expression and of association.

  • The human right to conscientious objection on grounds of religious belief.

  • The human right of parents to choose schools for their children which ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.


Human Rights & Religion | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom of Religion

What provisions of human rights law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Freedom of Religion?

Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"Everyone is entitled to ... rights... without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.... 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...."
--Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 2 and 18

"States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to education...; undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and ... legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to ... minimum educational standards ... and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions...."
--International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 13

"Each State Party ... undertakes to respect and to ensure ... rights ... without distinction of any kind, such as race, ... religion, political or other opinion, ... or other status.... Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations ... necessary to protect public safety ... or the fundamental rights ... of others. The States Parties ... undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and ... legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.... Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.... The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized.... Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others...."
--International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 1, 18, 19, 21, and 22

"States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue ... a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.... Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act ... of racial discrimination.... States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law ... in the enjoyment of ... the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion...."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Articles 2 and 5

"States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... without discrimination of any kind irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.... States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. States Parties shall respect the right and duties of the parents and ... legal guardians to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are ... necessary to protect public safety ... or the fundamental rights ... of others.... In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority ... shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion...."
--Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2, 14, and 30


Human Rights & Religion | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom of Religion

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Freedom of Religion for all?

Includes excerpts from the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, AReligious Freedom of Indigenous Peoples,@ Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Resolution 1996/36, and commitments made at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen , the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.

"Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.... No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons, or person on the grounds or religion or other belief.... All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.... The parents or ... legal guardians of the child have the right to organize the life within the family in accordance with their religion or belief and bearing in mind the moral education in which they believe the child should be brought up. Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents ... and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion ... against the wishes of his parents.... The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the ground of religion or belief...."
--Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Arts. 1, 2, 4, and 5

"The Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities,... Emphasizing the spiritual connection that indigenous peoples have with the land, and the relationship of traditional lands with the practice of indigenous religion,... Affirms that religion or belief, for anyone who professes either, is one of the fundamental elements in his or her conception of life and that freedom of religion or belief should be fully respected and guaranteed; Reiterates ... that everyone should have the right to freedom of religion and that this right includes freedom, either individually or in community with others, to manifest one's religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching; Invites the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on religious intolerance to take into account ... the specific problems faced by indigenous people relating to the destruction and violation of their sacred sites and religious ceremonies; ... the spiritual relationship these indigenous communities have with the land and the significance of traditional lands for the practice of their religion, and to examine the history of events which are responsible for the violation of these communities' right to freedom of religion and religious practice; Recommends that the Special Rapporteur explore in depth the impact that outside influences have on these communities' ability to practise their religion."
-- Religious Freedom of Indigenous Peoples, Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Resolution 1996/36, Preamble and paras. 1, 2, 4, and 6

"Eliminating discrimination and promoting tolerance and mutual respect for ... diversity ... requires ... Enacting and implementing appropriate laws ... to combat ... religious intolerance in all its ... forms ... and all forms of discrimination in all walks of life in societies."
--Copenhagen Programme of Action, paras. 73(a)

"Religion, spirituality and belief play a central role in the lives of millions of women and men, in the way they live and in the aspirations they have for the future. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is inalienable and must be universally enjoyed. This right includes the freedom to have or to adopt the religion or belief of their choice either individually or in community with others, in public or in private, and to manifest their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. In order to realize equality, development and peace, there is a need to respect these rights and freedoms fully. Religion, thought, conscience and belief may, and can, contribute to fulfilling women's and men's moral, ethical and spiritual needs and to realizing their full potential in society...."
--Beijing Platform for Action, para. 24

"Equitable human settlements are those in which all people, without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, have equal access to housing, infrastructure, health services, adequate food and water, education.... We ... commit ourselves to ... Eradicating and ensuring legal protection from discrimination in access to shelter and basic services, without distinction of any kind...."
--Habitat Agenda, paras. 2.27 and 3.40


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org