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The Trump Twitter ban raises the normative question as to whether a platform that provides relatively easy access to a broad audience should be allowed to remove private content that to one or another extent is considered to include shocking beliefs and convictions, which on their own merits can be considered as a manifestation of the rights to free exercise and free speech. Whatever the answer to this question turns out to be, we should be cautious. Although many people will be glad about the Twitter ban for political reasons, the suspension has created an ugly and dangerous precedent that sooner or later will create restrictions for others. Think, for example, of religious activists who sharply criticize legal and political decisions that target religious minorities. In recent years, European countries have revoked entry visas to public speakers who potentially could incite audiences. In some cases, these speakers have decided to deliver their talks online. Other religious activists who have very contentious ideas about civil liberties, equality between men and women, and same-sex marriages could potentially also face serious restrictions.

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In my work in the Middle East, when I was at the State Department, I saw this sort of this surprising dynamic of where the more democratic a country was in the Middle Eastern context, usually the weaker the protections were for religious freedom. And the more authoritarian they were, then there were stronger protections for freedom of worship and minorities. Neither was ideal. But I was comparing Kuwait, which had a parliament, had an interesting relationship between elected officials and the monarchy. There’s this desperate need for more churches for the expatriate community. The Parliament refuses to permit the building of new churches because they are a Muslim or Muslim-majority country. And the people [of Kuwait] don’t want it. Even though the monarchy is for it. They’re hamstrung by their democratically elected leadership. Now, look at the United Arab Emirates, which is a monarchy that doesn’t have the democratic component in the same way that Kuwait does. They’re building a church, a synagogue, and a mosque, next to each other in the capital of Abu Dhabi…. So that’s going to be an issue that we’ll have to continue to engage with, all of us who work in the space of freedom of religion or belief on how to navigate promoting religious freedom in both an authoritarian or democratic context because both have their challenges but in distinct and different ways.

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In his interview for the ICLRS blog, Shamshad Pasarlay, a former professor at an Afghanistan university, speaks on possible changes in the Afghan political and legal system after most of the country was seized by the Taliban. He focuses on the nature of the regime, the application of the Taliban’s version of sharia law, and its threats to women’s and girl’s rights.

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Brett G. Scharffs

Christianity, Human Rights, and Dignity: Squaring the Triangle

By Brett G. Scharffs, Andrea Pin & Dmytro Vovk

This blogpost is modified from Scharffs, Pin, and Vovk’s Introduction to “Human Dignity and Human Rights—Christian Perspectives and Practices: A Focus on Constitutional and International Law,” in a special issue of the BYU Law Review.

The confrontations between Christianity and human rights are not without precedent. Centuries of church and state struggles, collaboration, and mutual identification are there to prove it. What is new, however, is the weaponry that Christianity and human rights can exploit today. Dignity is a much stronger—albeit elusive—concept than what was available before. It can mobilize people, intellectuals, judges, and political leaders in different ways but with equal force. It magnifies the political and cultural role of the judiciary. It strengthens the importance of national identities while emphasizing the universal value of human life. It reframes the role of politics and politicians. The relationships between Christianity, human rights, and secularism will likely depend on how these new tensions are reconciled—and on the rival factions’ capacity to mutually acknowledge each other as involved in the discovery of the worthiness of the human being.

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Human Dignity Initiative

Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with an invitation to a global conversation about preserving and protecting human dignity for everyone everywhere.

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