Contemporary Challenges of Religious Freedom: State Neutrality and the Role of Religion in Public Life

Montserrat Gas-Aixendri is a Full Professor of Law and Religion at Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain)

Today, the political, social and cultural context in which the question of religious freedom is posed has significantly changed. In the West, the different forms of religious affiliation affect in a new way the composition of personal identity, the interpretation of social ties and the pursuit of the common good in a structurally interreligious, intercultural and inter-ethnic social context. The International Theological Commission analyzes in the document “Religious Freedom for the Good of All”, the new challenges of religious freedom since the promulgation of the conciliar Declaration Dignitatis Humanae in 1965.

Two key aspects of this new scenario are (1) the interactions between the liberal democratic State and its idea of ​​religious neutrality; and (2) the social role of religious communities. Traditionally, the various forms of religious communities have been perceived socially as important factors of mediation between individuals and the State. Today the relevance of religious communities is compromised against the liberal-democratic model of the State and the techno-economic direction of civil society (para2).

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WEBINAR: Advancing Religious Freedom in Different Political Regimes

Webinar Presented by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies’ Blog

“Talk About: Law and Religion”

7 June 2020

9:00 a.m. (Mountain Time), 17:00 (Central European time)

This webinar will highlight opportunities and successful stories, as well as challenges and failures in advancing religious freedom globally. Five distinguished panelists will share their personal experience of promoting religious freedom on political and legal levels, as well as in communities, education, and academia ranging from Iraq to Eastern Europe. What model of religious freedom should be promoted? What obstacles do religious freedom defenders face in non-democratic regimes and young democracies? How have they interacted with local politicians and other important public actors? How does advocating for religious freedom contribute to a broader human rights agenda and the common good? What are more important—legal and political reforms or religious literacy programs and promoting religious tolerance? What are realistic results to be achieved? Why are international religious freedom programs sometimes ineffective and being criticized?

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Freedom of Religion or Belief in Russia: Restrictions and Challenges in 2020

Olga Sibireva is the head of the Religion in Secular Society project at the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

In this blog post, I will briefly explain some recent Russian developments regarding freedom of religion or belief protections in 2020. The post is based on the April 2021 report released by the Moscow-based human rights monitor, the SOVA-Center. Generally, Russia did not make any positive progress concerning challenges to freedom of religion or belief that emerged in previous years.

Persecution of Religious Minorities

Since 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned in Russia as an extremist organization. Leaders and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ communities can be fined and punished criminally for professing their religion. While in 2019 there were 18 criminal sentences of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this number increased to 25 in 2020, and 13 people were sentenced to prison time. Overall, more than 400 believers have been prosecuted. New criminal cases were initiated less than a year ago, which means that the authorities will continue to prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses. Additionally, human rights monitors regularly report cases of violence against detained believers.

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