religionThe particular religious and philosophical beliefs held by a minority group are often what distinguishes them from the majority.  It is therefore vital that the rights relating to religion and spirituality are protected in both law and fact.  They include the right to freedom of conscience, thought and religion; the right to profess or not to profess to a religion; the right to change religion and protection against coercion to change religion; the right to manifest religion; and finally, the right of parents to have their children educated in line with their particular beliefs and convictions. However, the practice of forced assimilation still occurs in countries in which there is a dominant majority religion.

According to obligations set out in international treaties, states must allow groups and not just individuals the opportunity to practice and manifest their religious beliefs. Majority religious groups should be afforded no preferential treatment by governments, even if they are the recognised state religion. Although the right to manifest one’s beliefs is not an absolute right, any restrictions imposed by the state must be prescribed by law, necessary in a democratic society and for the purpose of serving the public.  Therefore, no state should restrict this right just because the religion in question is not the recognised state religion, or because of differing beliefs.

One particular right allows parents to withdraw their children from particular classes if they do not feel the teachings are in line with their own religious and moral convictions.  This can be crucial for minority groups, as state education may reflect the views of the majority religion, possibly to the detriment of other religious groups.

Instruments protecting the right to freedom of religion

International instruments:

Regional instruments:

Relevant jurisprudence

International cases:

Regional cases:

Domestic cases:

Photo: A man stands outside a Catholic church in Peshawar, June 2009. Credit: Jared Ferrie.

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