I. Human Rights &
Religious Freedom

Since the end of the Second World War the right of all human beings to freedom of religion has been proclaimed by resolutions of various international bodies, including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and in the Helsinki Accord. Governments are charged not only to abandon any former policies of religious persecution, but also positively to act to protect religious liberty, so long as the religious practices of a particular sect or denomination do not contravene the ordinary criminal law or invade the rights of other citizens. Particularly in the absence of any scholarly consensus on the definition of religion, such resolutions do not, however, guarantee the elimination of all forms of religious discrimination. Governmental preference for one (or more) religions may still persist, as instanced in the establishment by law of particular religions in various European countries. Such preference may confer economic, specifically fiscal, advantages on particular religious bodies as well as social and even political privileges denied to other faiths. Even where such discriminatory measures are not overtly maintained (by law, custom, or precedent), there may be diverse governmental or social attitudes which favour some types of religious body above others. In particular, there may be official or public suspicion of certain religious organizations, particularly where the teachings and practices of a religious group are generally unfamiliar—so unfamiliar that, by officialdom or public opinion, they may be regarded as being “not really religious”. The public, and at times the authorities, invoke a stereotype of what a religion should resemble and how religious believers should behave. Bodies which depart too radically from this, perhaps unconsciously hypothesized, model may thus appear ineligible for the extension to them of normal religious toleration. They may, indeed, appear to fall outside the category of what is to be considered as religion at all, or even have to face the charge that they operate in ways that contravene the law.

II. Contemporary Religious Diversity