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Religious repression both violent and polite

VATICAN (AsiaNews): “Freedom of religion or belief is the litmus test for respect of all other human rights and fundamental freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone,” the under-secretary for the Relations with States for the Holy See, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, said at the Conference on Combating Intolerance and Discriminations of Christians held at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna in early December.

The Vatican diplomat quoted Pope John Paul II as saying, “Religious freedom constituted the very heart of human rights.”

He then told the conference, “Religious freedom, thus, is essential to defending the human rights of all people, whether they are believers or non-believers, since within the realm of conscience, that constitutes the dignity of the human person, there are interrelated and indivisible human rights, such as freedom of religion or belief, freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.

“In fact, combatting intolerance and discrimination against Christians can be an effective tool in defending the human rights of other religious believers and indeed, the human rights of those who profess no religion.”

He pointed out that anti-Christian intolerance and discrimination take many forms. “The atrocities committed against Christians in Syria and Iraq are so horrific that words cannot adequately respond, and their plight must not be forgotten.”

He went on to point out that intolerance of and discrimination against Christians is not simply about violent attacks or wanton destruction of religious artefacts, but comes in many new forms.

He spoke of the marginalisation of religion and the attempt to relegate it to the private realm, and the claim that religious freedom should be confined to freedom of worship.

“These new forms of anti-Christian sentiment are subtler and sometimes paradoxical, because they set freedom of worship against some general notion of tolerance and non-discrimination.”

He said that Pope Francis has referred to this as polite persecution of Christians.

Monsignor Camilleri said this polite exclusion is manifest in things like banning or objecting to public celebrations of Christmas because some may be offended.

“These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square,” he said.

“In short, in the guise of political correctness, Christian faith and morals are considered to be hostile and offensive, and therefore, something to be removed from public discourse,” he pointed out.

He stressed that the Church does not pretend to be a substitute for politics, but does have a huge capacity for good and while it cannot offer technical solutions to anything, it can offer guiding principles to the wider community to a more universal vision.

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