- Freedom to Change One’s Religion or Belief [UDHR, Article 18, ECHR, Article 9(1), OSCE Copenhagen Document, Article 9(4)]
- Freedom to Have or to Adopt a Religion or Belief of One’s Choice [ICCPR Article 18(1)]
Necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one’s current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one's religion or belief;
No limitations permitted on this freedom; and
No individual shall be compelled to reveal his or her thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief.
—HRC General Comment No. 22 (paras. 3, 5)
- Freedom From Coercion Which Would Impair an Individual’s Freedom to Have or To Adopt a Religion or Belief of His or Her Choice [ICCPR, Article 18(2) and UN 1981 Dec. Article 1(2)]
No limitations are permitted on this freedom.
The same protection is enjoyed by holders of all beliefs of a non-religious nature.
Examples of impermissible coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief include:
The use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to specific beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief, or to convert; and
Policies or practices having the same intention or effect, such as those restricting political rights protected under article 25 of the ICCPR or access to education, medical care or employment
–HRC General Comment No. 22 (para. 5)
- Freedom to Manifest Religion or Belief in Worship, Observance, Practice, and Teaching [UDHR, Article 18, ICCPR, Article 18(1), UN 1981 Dec., Article 1, OSCE Vienna Document, Article 16(d) [sic. 16.4]]
This freedom may be exercised in public or in private, individually or in community with others.
This freedom, at a minimum, encompasses the following freedoms:
To worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain, including the building of places of worship, freely accessible places for these purposes;
To establish and maintain appropriate charitable or humanitarian institutions, and seminaries or religious schools;
To make, acquire and use to an adequate extent the necessary articles and materials related to the rites or customs of a religion or belief, including the use of ritual formulae and objects, the display of symbols, observance of dietary regulations, the wearing of distinctive clothing or head coverings, participation in rituals associated with certain stages of life, and the use of a particular language customarily spoken by a group;
To write, issue and disseminate relevant publications in these areas;
To teach a religion or belief in places suitable for these purposes;
To solicit and receive voluntary financial and other contributions from individuals and institutions;
To organize, train, appoint, elect, designate by succession, or replace appropriate leaders, priests and teachers called for by the requirements and standards of any religion or belief;
To observe days of rest and to celebrate holidays and ceremonies in accordance with the precepts of one’s religion or belief; and
To establish and maintain communications with individuals and communities in matters of religion and belief at the national and international levels.
- Permissible Limitations on the Freedom to Manifest Religion or Belief [ICCPR, Article 18(3) and UN 1981 Dec., Article 1(3)]
Freedom to manifest religion or belief may be subject to only 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.
No derogation may be made from freedom of thought, conscience and religion, even during “time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.” (ICCPR, Article 4(2) and UDHR, Articles 29 & 30)
Limitations must be established by law and must not be applied in a manner that would vitiate the rights guaranteed in article 18.
Paragraph 3 of article 18 is to be strictly interpreted: limitations are not allowed on grounds not specified there, even if they would be allowed as limitations to other rights protected in the Covenant (for example, a limitation based on national security is impermissible).
Limitations may be applied only for those purposes for which they were prescribed and must be directly related and proportionate to the specific need on which they are predicated.
Limitations may not be imposed for discriminatory purposes or applied in a discriminatory manner.
Limitations on the freedom to manifest a religion or belief for the purpose of protecting morals must be based on principles not deriving exclusively from a single tradition or religion.
Persons already subject to certain legitimate constraints, such as prisoners, continue to enjoy their rights to manifest their religion or belief to the fullest extent compatible with the specific nature of the constraint.
—HRC General Comment No. 22 (para. 8)
Nothing in the UDHR shall be interpreted as implying for any State, group, or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth therein.
— UDHR Article 30