Freedom of Religion for all challenged: a concerning global trend

Pastor Saeed Abednin, an American citizen has been in an Iranian prison for three years this month. Imprisoned in Iran for his faith, Pastor Saeed has been beaten and tormented – called upon to recant his faith and become a Muslim.

The American Centre for Law and Justice have launched an international public advocacy campaign for his freedom – bringing his case before Congress, the White House, the United Nations and other world leaders.

This is a great advocacy campaign, and you should definitely sign the petition found on the ACLJ website.

Pastor Saeed’s wrongful imprisonment raises the broader matter of the rise in religious persecution, particularly amongst Christian minorities, and the diminishing right to religious freedom – globally.

Over the past five years or so, several European countries, the European Union, as well as Canada have taken up religious freedom in their foreign policies in one way or another.

Differences in approaches among Western democracies are significant, stemming from varying understandings of the meaning and reach of religious freedom, especially in its public and political manifestations.

These variances derive from differing histories, views on church-state relations, and ongoing internal religious freedom controversies.

At a recent Religious Freedom Conference I attended, Dr Paul Taylor made the point that freedom of religion is not taken seriously in many modern democracies – including Australia.

Section 116 of our Constitution merely ensures that we do not ever institute a State-sanctioned religion. This does not enforce the right to religious freedom at a Federal level in Australia. This also does not create a ‘separation of Church and State’ – as misinterpreted by many.

At the same conference, Professor Rex Adhar eloquently articulated the important point that secularism is not a neutral world view, but rather, a belief system that requires elaboration and understanding.

What many do not realise is that the protection of the freedom of religion in any given community is at the benefit of all – including secularists. The same principles apply in relation to the freedom of speech and the freedom of association – each of these freedoms affect all citizens, and benefit all citizens, and impact on social regulation.

It is therefore in our best interest to protect freedom of religion both here in Australia and internationally.

Unfortunately, for that to take place, we have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do.

Advocacy for the freedom of religion globally is one effective way in ensuring that this remains on the agenda of our leaders, and that we give voice to those for whom their freedom of religion has been compromised.

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