Millennials, Human Rights, and Religious Freedom

By: Libna Stevens

Are Millennials concerned about human rights, social justice, and religious freedom? The answer may surprise you, according to a panel of young experts, leaders, and activists during a session held recently at the 8th International Religious Liberty Association World Congress held in Hollywood, Florida, United States.

When it comes to human rights, social justice, and religious freedom, Millennials—a generation between 16-36—are a force to be reckoned with. Millennials possess certain traits that make them a unique group of young people with the potential to create change, panel experts said.

Millennials are multitaskers. They are connected to social media, are tech savvy, they want instant gratification, team collaboration, transparency, and like to speak up about issues that can change the world, explained Jiwan Moon, Public Campus Ministries director for the Adventist Church.

Human rights

“We are a generation trying to fight for the rights and beliefs of others,” said Blayre Marley, a young lawyer from Maryland, United States. She said millennials are alarmed by the hate crimes in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, and the more than 143 hate crimes reported in New York City in just the last few months.

“We look at Black Lives Matter, which highlights race relations as a way to promote social justice,” said Marley. Millennials care if people are being fed, care about voting rights, marriage equality, privacy rights, people who come out of prison, refugee rights and genocide. “It’s not just about ourselves,” explained Marley.

“We are a generation here to speak up. We are not a generation to be silenced, and we seek mutual respect,” she added.

Speaking up about causes that matter to millennials can sometimes be misunderstood, said Jabulile Buthelezi, a social activist and communicator from Johannesburg, South Africa. In South Africa, for example, young people have joined across university campuses to demonstrate for equal education and better opportunities, explained Buthelezi.

Buthelezi said that Black Lives Matters has been influential in Africa—especially among females—because it has become a platform to answer questions.

Millennials are concerned about their identity and where they come from, including the current religious beliefs they see, said Buthelezi. “We are talking about a generation that cannot be silenced because if it doesn’t get answers, it goes on with their ideas.”

Social justice

The answer to issues like freedom of choice, education equality, health care, and housing rights is at the heart of human rights, said Maigane Diop, an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland-College Park near Washington, D.C.

Diop rubs shoulders with more than 27,000 students, many of whom take part in the more than 800 organizations on campus. Many of these organizations are dedicated to human rights causes.

“We are dedicated to human rights because we are concerned when human rights are violated,” said Diop. The advent of social media has provided a more powerful voice, a voice for unity in the matters of freedom of conscience and religious liberty. “For some reason, we can respect, understand and come together from different socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said.

“We embrace freedom of choice, the ability of the person next to me to believe completely different from me, and that they are free to express themselves without their rights being infringed,” said Diop.

Racial inequality and equal pay, as well as equal housing and poverty, are of much concern, added Diop. “We see what has perpetuated in the past and affected people here now, and we are vocal about change,” she said.

One thing is clear about Millennials is that they have a passion for social justice, said Timothy Golden, a professor at Walla Walla University in Washington State, United States. “They show up in masses to oppose what they firmly believe in, thanks to social media platforms that connect them in a manner of minutes,” said Golden.

When it comes to religious matters, Millennials are frustrated by the inconsistencies they see between church leaders’ talk about religious liberty and their actions.

Buthelezi sees that in her part of the world, too. “Millennials are quite impatient when they see leaders keep silent on issues like sexual orientation or when church leaders or believers fall out of line with their beliefs,” she said.

“Millenials are more interested in seeing churches and leaders participate in acts of service so that they can be part of it as well,” said Golden.

Religious freedom

Founder and president of Hardwired Global Tina Ramirez said recognizing that there is religious dissidence around the world is a great opportunity to get millennials involved in religious freedom advocacy. Hardwired Global is an organization that develops indigenous leadership for the freedom of religion or beliefs around the world.

Ramirez’s organization believes that every human was made to worship and deserves the freedom to worship. Many millennials who enjoy religious freedom in their country may not understand others who are affected by religious oppression, she said.

“How can we influence Millennials to care about something they don’t care about or understand such as religious freedom?” she asked. It’s simply by awareness, educating about religious freedom and getting them involved in the cause of religious liberty and connecting them through social media campaigns from around the world.

Ramirez and her organization have been providing education and training to young leaders who establish teams, in 30 countries around the world, including the Middle East.

“It is foundational human rights that strengthen other freedoms,” said Ramirez.

More can be done to capture the hearts and minds of young people to recognize the value of religious freedom, Ramirez said. Conversations on issues like healthcare, immigration, racial issues, and other important topics need to continue engaging millennials to help effect change.

Article first published in Adventist Review.