Religious Liberty Experts call for "Responsible Dissemination of Religion or Belief"

News February 2000

Madrid, Spain ... Religious liberty experts are calling for a "responsible dissemination of religion or belief" by members of religious communities. A 14-point statement of "Guiding Principles" was adopted by a 25-member Board of Experts of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) meeting in Madrid in late January. The document challenges religious communities around the world to recognize the "increasing reality of religious pluralism" and emphasizes the urgent need to improve the way religious convictions are shared. It calls for an increased sensitivity to the history, convictions, way of life and culture of individuals targeted for missionary activity.

"With this declaration we are taking an important step forward on an issue which historically has been very difficult," says Gunnar Staalsett, Bishop of Oslo and IRLA president for 1999. "The issue of proselytism is touching the nerve of most religious communities. The fact that we have addressed this issue in the context of dissemination of religion or belief makes it possible to transcend narrow definitions."

The principles expressed in the statement have "primarily an ethical character and provide criteria to guide individuals and communities in their relations with each other." The human rights experts concluded that these principles "also have relevance for relations between religious communities and states."

The document refers to international human rights instruments as a point of reference and calls for truthful and fair dissemination of faith or beliefs and that adherents to a particular religion, faith, or belief should practice what they preach. It is available at: www.irla.org.

"It is necessary to guarantee all religions the right to disseminate their beliefs, as well as the right of each individual to join a religion or belief, or change it, without coercion," says Professor Alberto de la Hera, director general of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Justice of Spain and a participant in the meetings. He adds that "the continuous growth of religious pluralism in a wide range of countries traditionally influenced by a predominant religion, brings today the need to create a climate of respect among all religious confessions."

According to Dr. John Graz, secretary-general of the IRLA, the document will receive wide distribution.

"We will send it firstly to the religious communities around the world, but the declaration will also be of interest, we believe, to the governments and the international bodies who are concerned with making the world a better place to live," says Graz.

Reacting to the document, Abdelfattah Amor, Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, UN Human Rights Commission, called it "a good text, but it will take time to bear fruit."

"The importance of this document will be measured by the way it is integrated into legislation, both nationally and internationally. The effectiveness will depend on the wisdom and efforts of those who will promote it," Amor says. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a long-time proponent of free religious choice and is an active member of the IRLA. The IRLA, a non-sectarian religious liberty organization established in 1893, is committed to defending principles of religious freedom throughout the world. [Ray Dabrowski/ANN Staff]