During the Freedom of Religion Conference held in June 2014 an exhibition was on display. Below are the panels of this exhibition.
MILESTONES IN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND TOLERANCE OVER THE CENTURIES
The documents presented in this exhibition only form a selection of what could be shown under the heading of religious freedom. Nevertheless they can be regarded as milestones – important steps on the road towards realisation of freedom of religion for every individual human being. This includes the freedom to choose any religion or no religion at all.
MAGNA CARTA AD 1215
John, by the Grace of God King of England First that we have granted to God, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish so to be observed, appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by Charter the freedom of the Church’s elections – a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it – and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.
UNITARIAN CHURCH TRANSYLVANIA
Every year, the Unitarian Church in Transylvania celebrates the anniversary of the first law on freedom of belief and conscience and religious tolerance. In 1658 an act was passed in Transylvania stating that preachers shall preach according to their own understanding of the gospel and not be punished in any way because of the way they preach even if there are those who do not agree with how they preach.
EDICT OF NANTES
The Edict of Nantes, issued on 13 April 1598, by Henry IV of France, granted the Calvinist Protestants of France (also known as Huguenots) substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic. The Edict did not recognise any fundamental right to freedom of religion as such. The right of having their worship services in specific places was granted to Protestants as a privilege. In 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked by King Louis XIV and persecution resumed.
In the early years of the 17th century, Arminius had a problem with the dogma of predestination of the settled reformed church in the Netherlands. According to him, human beings can decide whether or not to accept God’s mercy. This is a matter of free will. Those who were of the same opinion as Arminius were called Remonstrants (“those that redemonstrate their point of view”). They did not agree with the church having the power to bind people to a set confession. Everybody should be able to grow in their own religious convictions and different views should be tolerated. A synod in 1618-1619 adopted rules of faith condemning the Remonstrants who consequently were sent off and founded their own church in exile.
The colonial assembly passed a Toleration Act guaranteeing that no Christians in Maryland would be “in any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.” Such toleration led Puritans and Quakers to flee to Maryland from Virginia, where they were persecuted by Anglicans. Maryland became renowned for its religious liberties. By modern standards, those liberties were restrictive. They applied only to Christians. There were times in the colony’s history when Catholics and Protestants fought each other and people were indeed persecuted for their religion. Nonetheless, Maryland’s Toleration Act was a historic step forward for freedom. It laid down a principle now central to our way of life.
In England, religious pluralism had been legalised in 1689. The last execution for heresy had been in the early 1600s. In Scotland the last to be executed was a 19 year old student in Edinburgh in 1698.
DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAN AND THE CITIZEN
No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.
EDICT OF TOLERATION
In 1844 the Edict of Toleration was issued by the governing authorities in the Ottoman Empire granting religious toleration to all within their borders. This included the Holy Land. The Turkish Government agreed to permit religious freedom and signed the document which guaranteed that “The Sublime Porte (Constantinople) engages to take effectual measures to prevent henceforward ” any further religious intolerance. For the first time in twelve hundred years the Jews were guaranteed the right to return to Israel in freedom and security.
UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
PROCLAIMED BY THE UNITED NATIONS, 1948
“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.”
CONVENTION FOR THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS 1950 (EUROPEAN CONVENTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS)
“1. 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 worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS (1966), ARTICLE 18:
“1. 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.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”