From DC to Mecca, Should ‘Human Dignity’ Be the New ‘Religious Freedom’?

Shift in human rights language could allow for greater acceptance in the Muslim world.

In his opening remarks at the second US Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo challenged every major world religion and secular society—and also invited them in.

“We all agree that fighting so that each person is free to believe, free to assemble, and to teach the tenets of his or her own faith is not optional,” said Pompeo last week to the almost 1,000 participants from civil society and more than 100 invited foreign delegations gathered at the US State Department. “Indeed, it is a moral imperative that this be permitted.”

But do all actually agree? A change in human rights language might make the difference.

And could Saudi Arabia improbably become the next champion?

At the first ministerial last year, the State Department invited participating nations to sign the Potomac Declaration and Call to Action, validating a vision of religious freedom grounded in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

At a side event during the second ministerial, Knox Thames, the State Department’s Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, spelled out several international cooperative accomplishments. But he told CT that it would have taken far too much negotiation to get other nations to put their pen to the Potomac paper.

The panel, organized by the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), studied six recent international human rights declarations, including the Potomac one.

RFI’s director for education, David Trimble, emphasized that each generation does well to restate the UDHR, because “language changes” and the once-meaningful 1950s concept of freedom of religion has faded with the millennial generation.

Thus, the term might need to be updated, and …

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