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Freedom to Manifest a Religion or Belief

The freedom to manifest religion or belief through worship, observance, practice and teaching encompasses a broad and diverse range of acts that are protected for both individuals and religious communities. The association of these acts with religion or belief must be looked at on a case-by-case basis. [12]

The following manifestations of religion represent religious acts that have been internationally recognized as falling under the ambit and protection of religious freedom. Such acts include, but are not limited to, these freedoms:

  • To worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes;
  • To establish and maintain religious, charitable or humanitarian institutions;
  • 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;
  • To write, issue and disseminate relevant publications;
  • To teach a religion or belief in places suitable for these purposes;
  • To solicit and receive voluntary financial and other contributions;
  • To train, appoint or elect leaders, clergy 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;
  • To freely communicate with individuals and communities in matters of religion and belief at the national and international levels. [13]

The concept of worship extends to ritual and ceremonial acts giving direct expression to belief as well as various practices essential to such acts, including the building of places of worship, the use of ritual procedures, religious artifacts and objects, and the display of symbols.

The observance and practice of religion or belief may include not only ceremonial acts, but also such customs as following dietary requirements, wearing distinctive clothing or coverings, participation in rituals associated with certain stages of life, and the use of a particular language customarily spoken by a group. In addition, the practice and teaching of religion or belief includes acts essential to the conduct by religious groups of their basic affairs, such as the freedom to establish seminaries or religious schools and the freedom to prepare and distribute religious texts or publications. [14]

The freedom to manifest religion or belief also includes the right to peacefully share one’s religion or belief with others, without being subject to the approval of the State or another religious community. Any limitation on the freedom to manifest religion or belief,must be exceptional and in compliance with international standards. [15]

Rights of Religious Minorities

Every religion is a religious minority somewhere. Freedom of religion or belief also involves giving due consideration and respect to persons belonging to religious minorities. These persons have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without any interference or any form of discrimination. States must therefore protect the existence and religious identity of the minorities within their territories and encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity. 

Rights of Parents and Children

The history and culture of civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring universal right. [16]

International human rights law is unequivocal on the right of parents to raise their children in accordance with their religion or belief. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights require States 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. [17]

Children enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief, in accordance with the wishes of their parents or guardians. Conversely they cannot be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of their parents or guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle. [18]

In exercising any functions that it assumes in relation to education and teaching, the State must respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions. [19] Forced participation of children of religious minorities in religious education of a majority faith or in courses that are designed to indoctrinate them against their particular religion or belief is prohibited.

Under international human rights law, States are obliged not merely to respect freedom of religion or belief, but also to protect such freedom against undue interference from third parties. In addition, States should promote an atmosphere of tolerance and appreciation of religious diversity in schools. School education can and should contribute to the elimination of negative stereotypes that frequently poison the relationship between communities and have particularly detrimental effects on religious minorities. [20]

[12] United Nations Human Rights Committee General Comment 22, ¶ 4; European Union Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief, ¶ 13.

[13] 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 6.

[14] United Nations Human Rights Committee General Comment 22, ¶ 4.

[15] European Union Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief, ¶ 40.

[16] See, e.g., Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 1972.

[17] Article 18(4), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Art. 13(3), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, from the International Bill of Human Rights.

[18] 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 5; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 14(2); Guidelines for Review of Legislation Pertaining to Religion or Belief, Prepared by the OSCE/ODIHR Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion in Consultation with the Venice Commission at 13.

[19] European Convention on Human Rights Protocol 1, Article 2; Handbook on European Non-Discrimination Law, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights jointly with the European Court of Human Rights.

[20] Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, ¶ 27-29, HRC 16/53, 15 December 2010.

XI. Freedom from Coercion
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