Religious Freedom

(2016/4) Editor(s): Thierry-Marie Correau(c), Joao Vila-Cha, Mile Babic
Cover Page

Articles of the issue

Table of Contents

         Concilium 4/2016


Editorial: Religious Freedom

Part one: Origins of the Present Situation

Christianity: From a State Religion to Religious Freedom – Mile Babić

‘The Gospel of Human Dignity’: Dignitatis humanae – A Continuing Provocation – Roman A. Siebenrock

Religious Freedom: a Disputed Human Right – Heiner Bielefeldt

Part Two: Three Current Realities to Consider

Muslim States and Freedom of Religion: The Interweaving of Religion and Politics – Emmanuel Pisani, O. P.

Religious Freedom in Asia – Felix Wilfred

Religious Freedom in the Face of Systematic Violence – Carlos Mendoza-Alvarez, O. P

Part Three: Towards Religious Freedom Becoming Universally Accepted

The Freedom of Religion as a Challenge for Religion and Society – Hans-Georg Ziebertz

The Enduring Importance of the Freedom of Religion – Erik Borgman

Part Four: Theological Forum

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change in the Light of Laudato Si’Dominique Greiner

Pope Francis Makes Use of Tradition – Jean-Paul Vesco

What is There of Quixote in Theology? – Giuseppe Bonfrate

‘Anyone who does not touch the earth cannot reach heaven...’ The Achievement of Elisabeth Motlmann-Wendel (15 July 1926-7 June 2016) – Marie-Theres Wacker


In the modern age, Western civilization has proclaimed the inviolability of dignity of every human being. This dignity is best protected by our respect for human freedoms and for human rights. Freedom is the very essence of human being, while fundamental freedom is the freedom of conscience that includes the freedom of religion and the freedom of belief or world view (Weltanschauung). Conscience cannot be forced upon us, and belief could not be imposed on us. In Western democratic countries, freedom of conscience and religion is mostly respected, yet one can notice that there is certain one sidedness in the understanding of freedoms of individual human beings. The states and bourgeois societies do protect freedom; however, they do not ground it, but rather assume it. Freedom is understood in negative terms, more as one’s separation from other people, and even as the negation of others. It is, therefore, a negative freedom, meaning the freedom from external compulsion, but not freedom. If freedom is limited to the negation of everything that surrounds us, if it is not capable of becoming positive, i.e. the freedom for something and for someone, for some values and for other people, then such freedom impoverish human being, since it is incapable of communication and cooperation with others....

Christianity: From a State Religion to Religious Freedom

Mile Babić


As soon as religious unity, on which political unity was based, collapsed, and as the Christian religion became plural in a single state, denominational wars broke out in the state. In order to maintain peace, the state had to become natural as regards religions and world views, in other words secular, since it no longer base itself on religious, but in secular sources. Religion was in most cases instrumentalised, just as today human reason is instrumentalised in the interests of political and economic power. We therefore need a secularisation that does note dissolve the otherness of the other, but instead affirms this otherness, in what Jürgen Herbermas calls ‘translation mode’

‘The Gospel of Human Dignity’: Dignitatis humanae – A Continuing Provocation

Roman A. Siebenrock


Dignitatis humanae proves to be an integral element of the Second Vatican Council by taking fundamental decisions in the doctrine of the Church and revelation about the encounters of the faithful with people of other convictions, which have the effect of depending that encounter. After situating it in history and interpreting it in the general context of the Council as an example of ‘theology in the signs of the times’, the article defines its permanent significance as that the Church can put the Gospel into practice only in service to human dignity and freedom.

Religious Freedom: a Disputed Human Right

Heiner Bielefeldt


Religious freedom is a disputed human right. Violations of this right take place through the actions of state agencies or non-state actors, and they take many forms, from formal proscription by law through administrative harassment to spontaneous or orchestrated mob violence. The constellations of agents and victims vary from country to country, with the greatest tragedies currently in the Middle East. Disputes about religious freedom, however, are not merely a matter of practice, but also of principle. This can be seen in various attempts to dismantle its core, which is based on the right to freedom. Under the slogan combating the defamation of religion’, religious freedom has been diverted in the direction of a protection for the honour of religion, especially for Islam. Equally, a one-sided emphasis on ‘negative’ religious freedom – ‘freedom from religion’- can have consequences that are damaging to freedom. In the light of such threats the article points to the indispensable function of religious freedom in the overall context of human rights.

Muslim States and Freedom of Religion: The Interweaving of Religion and Politics

Emmanuel Pisani, O. P.


Where does the question of religious freedom feature in the reflection of Muslim thinkers? Do recent legal developments in Muslim states – both constitutional and in the area of personal status – reflect a movement forwards greater religious freedom? By highlighting the interweaving of theology and politics in Muslim states, and through the use of specific cases, this article analyses the signs and the beginnings of an admittedly fragile but every real evolution in favour of religious freedom.

Religious Freedom in Asia

Felix Wilfred


To understand religious freedom in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies of Asia is to break the conventional liberal framework. Religious freedom has to do not only with individuals and their choice of religion, but with the legitimate self-expression of communities marked by their religious identities and locked in conflict with each other on social, political, cultural and economic grounds. The article presents three different paradigmatic situations in Asia and analyzes the interplay of religious freedom with other factors and forces in each of those situations. The article also highlights some of the thorny, intriguing and ambiguous issues caught in the dialectics of religious freedom and its negotiation. The article refers also to the long history of religious intolerance and negotiation of religious freedom in the West, and reflects on how the Asian struggles for religious freedom could be of help to the West in encountering the new challenges of religious freedom there, connected with increasing migration of people from other religious traditions.

Religious Freedom in the Face of Systematic Violence

Carlos Mendoza-Alvarez


According to mimetic theory and anti-sistemic studies, religious freedom is not only a question of law but an anthropological and structural issue: how the believers can resist to hegemonic powers (social, political, religious & media) through a religious freedom reloaded in 21st Century? An expression of this new paradigm is the religious resistances of indigenous peoples in Latin America & Caribbean, as well other civil movements of victims, opening hope for humanity from the other side of global power.

The Freedom of Religion as a Challenge for Religion and Society

Hans-Georg Zieberts


The right to freedom of religion enables religious people to practise their religion freely and at the same time it protects others from possible negative consequences through religion. This right formulates principles for dealing with religious plurality and it is a central instrument for the maintenance of social and political peace. The best guarantee of freedom of religion is offered by the secular State. Religions must be prepared to conceive themselves as particular Weltanschauung of which no single one in a pluralist world is considered the universal political and juridical order. In order that human rights can claim universal validity, they are conceived consciously as non-religious but anti-religious, so that religions can support them.

The Enduring Importance of the Freedom of Religion

Erik Borgman


Religious freedom is important because it is truth and justice we have to obey, not the image of truth and justice our state upholds or our culture or our self-interest brings forward. However, liberal democracy tends to think of itself as guarantee for freedom and tends to ask everyone to submit to its values. Thus, it in fact, it presents itself as a new established religion. This article argues with the Universal Declaration of Human rights that we should consider the right to religious liberty unalienable even though religious conviction can abhor us for very plausible reasons.