University of Minnesota

Advocacy, Educational, and Training Materials

Freedom of Religion or Belief

To address the need for more educational materials related to freedom of religion and belief, on November 23–25, 2001—the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief—the UN and Spain hosted the International Consultative Conference on School Education in Relation to Freedom of Religion or Belief, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination. The purpose of the conference was to develop a strategy for writing textbooks, curricula, media, and training materials on freedom of religion and belief.  In the Final Document from this conference, the Special Rapporteur noted the “urgent need to promote, through education, the protection and the respect for freedom of religion or belief in order to strengthen peace, understanding and tolerance among individuals, groups and nations, and with a view to developing a respect for pluralism . . . ” (E/CN.4/2002/73 at (w)(1)).  Considering that “the young generation should be brought up in a spirit of peace, tolerance, mutual understanding and respect for human rights” (Id. at (w)(3)), the conference encouraged states, “at the appropriate level of government and any other concerned institution or organ . . . to improve the ways and means of training teachers and other categories of educational personnel . . .” (Id. at (w)(10)).  To do this, the conference recommended the following:

(10)(a).           Developing the motivation of teachers for their action by supporting and encouraging commitment to the human rights values and in particular tolerance and non-discrimination in the field of religion or belief;

(b).      Preparing teachers to educate children concerning a culture of respect for every human being, tolerance and non-discrimination;

(c).      Encouraging the study and the dissemination of different experiences in education in relation with freedom of religion or belief, especially innovative experiments carried out all over the world;

(d).      Where appropriate, providing teachers and students with voluntary opportunities for meetings and exchanges with their counterparts of different religions or beliefs;

(e).      Encouraging exchanges of teachers and students and facilitating educational study abroad;

(f).       Encouraging, at the appropriate level, general knowledge and academic research in relation to freedom of religion or belief;

And further:

(11).    Encourages States at the appropriate level of government and other concerned institutions or organizations, where appropriate and possible, to increase their efforts to facilitate the renewal, production, dissemination, translation and exchange of means and materials for education in the field of freedom of religion or belief, giving special consideration to the fact that in many countries students gain knowledge, including in the field of freedom of religion or belief, through the mass media outside educational establishments. To this end, action should be considered on the following:

(a)       Appropriate and constructive use should be made of the entire range of equipment available, from traditional means to the new educational technology, including Internet, as relevant to the field of freedom of religion or belief;

(b)       Cooperation between States and the relevant international organizations and institutions concerned as well as the media and non-governmental organizations to combat the propagation of intolerant and discriminatory stereotypes of religions or beliefs in the media and Internet sites;

(c)       The inclusion of a component of special mass media education in order to help the students to select and analyse the information conveyed by the mass media in the field of freedom of religion or belief;

(d)       Better appreciation of diversity and the development of tolerance and the protection and non-discrimination of migrants and refugees and their freedom of religion or belief;

12.       Recommends that States as well as concerned institutions and organizations should consider studying, taking advantage of and disseminating best practices on education in relation to freedom of religion or belief, which attach particular importance to tolerance and non-discrimination;

13.       Recommends that States should consider promoting international cultural exchanges in the field of education, notably by concluding and implementing agreements relating to the freedom of religion or belief, non-discrimination and tolerance and respect for human rights;

14.       Encourages all parts of society, both individually and collectively, to contribute to an education based on human dignity and to respect freedom of religion or belief, tolerance and non-discrimination;

15.       Encourages States at the appropriate level of government, non-governmental organizations and all members of civil society to join their efforts with a view to taking advantage of the media and other means for self and mutual teaching as well as cultural institutions such as museums and libraries, to provide the individual with relevant knowledge in the field of freedom of religion or belief;

16.       Encourages States to promote human dignity, and freedom of religion or belief, tolerance and non-discrimination, and thus to combat, through appropriate measures, religious or belief, ethnic, racial, national and cultural stereotypes;

17.       Invites organizations and specialized agencies of the United Nations to contribute, in accordance with their mandate, to the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, tolerance and non-discrimination;

18.       Encourages also States, at the appropriate level of government, non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society to take advantage of relevant social and cultural activities of all kinds to promote the objectives of this document;

19.       Invites all States, civil society and the international community to promote the principles, objectives and recommendations in the present document on school education in relation with freedom of religion or belief, tolerance and non-discrimination.

This document was adopted without qualifying statement or reservation.  Though the events of September 11, 2001 negatively impacted the implementation of the Conference recommendations, a follow-up Conference hosted by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief from December 7–9, 2002, suggested ways of achieving the goals of the Madrid Conference, produced a strategy and a plan of action, and established five sub-projects (including the 2004 Madrid Implementation Conference, development of an Internet database, a volume on pedagogical models, materials and methods, a volume on children’s and students’ stories about tolerance, and a teacher training manual).  The Madrid Conference was further followed by a meeting held din Geneva by the International Association for Religious Freedom on April 4, 2003, which discussed the  need to respond to increasing restrictions on freedom of religion or belief since the September 11, 2011 attacks.

Resources for Advocates

For the Record 2001 - Religious Intolerance: Report of the Special Rapporteur (SR) on religious intolerance.
Identifies incidents and government actions that are inconsistent with provisions in the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

Report to the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion
Published by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Presents the Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom describing the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world.

The Rutherford Institute
Topic briefs regarding religious freedom and other civil liberties concerns.

Human Rights Without Frontiers
Compilations of news stories by country regarding freedom of religion or belief.

Institute for Jewish Policy Research
An online country-by-country examination of the manifestations of racism, xenophobia and, especially, anti-Semitism, against a backdrop of the more general social and political contexts in which such manifestations occur.

International Coalition for Religious Freedom World Report
The International Coalition for Religious Freedom is a non-profit, non-sectarian, educational organization dedicated to defending the religious freedom of all people, regardless of creed, gender or ethnic origin. It currently receives the bulk of its funding from institutions and individuals related to the Unification Church community.

Religious Freedom in the Majority of Islamic Cultures: 1998 Report
Report by a Catholic organization tracking religious intolerance in Muslim nations.

United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Affairs, July 22, 1997.

Amnesty International USA Interfaith Network
Amnesty USA’s interfaith network supports activists of all faiths who are on the front line of the struggle for human rights.

International Religious Liberty Association
This group, founded by Seventh Day Adventists, is dedicated to defending and safeguarding the civil right of all people to worship, to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, and to manifest their religious convictions in observance, promulgation, and teaching, subject only to the respect for the equivalent rights of others.

International Association for Religious Freedom
IARF is an active NGO at the UN committed to support for Article 18.

Keston Institute
Monitors freedom of religion and researches religious affairs in communist and post-communist countries.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
This site currently is under construction in large but resources related to Arab world will continue to appear and contact information for the Cairo Institute is available.

Resources for clergy
Parliament of the World's Religions

Talking Points for Use in Local Worship Services
Published by the Human Rights Resource Center, the talking points are meant to help to preachers, teachers, religious leaders, prayer leaders, and any one who may want to engage their faith community in a discussion about the values of human rights and religion.

The World Council of Churches
In a 1948 conference in Amsterdam this group published a Declaration on Religious Liberty.

Resources for Teachers

Council for Secular Humanism
The Council for Secular Humanism cultivates rational inquiry, ethical values, and human development through the advancement of secular humanism. To carry out its mission the Council for Secular Humanism sponsors publications, programs, and organizes meetings and other group activities.

International Humanist and Ethical Union
The IHEU is an international NGO in special consultative status with the U.N. (New York, Geneva, Vienna) and the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), and seeks to represent the human-centered views of its 100 member organizations in 37 countries.. It is one of 40 NGOs given authority by the Council of Europe to lodge complaints against States violating the European Social Charter. Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry.

ABC, teaching human rights: Practical activities for primary and secondary schools
Published by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Chapter 3 contains a discussion about freedom of religion and belief as well as suggested activities.

AntiDefamation League’s A World of Difference
A curriculum focused on combating anti-Semitism, bigotry and extremism.

CyberSchoolBus, Interactive Declaration, Article 18
This UN hosted site provides an explanation of each Universal Declaration article with definitions, plain language and activities to help students understand and interpret the language of this critical UN document.

Human Rights Education Handbook
In this handbook, published by the Human Rights Resource Center, activities 12, 19, and 21 are designed to facilitate discussion about general human rights issues, but can easily be adapted to focus on freedom of religion or belief.

Raising Children with Roots, Rights and Responsibilities
Published by the Human Rights Resource Center. Sessions 3 and 11 relate to freedom of religion and belief. This curriculum is best suited for children ages three to six, their parents and educators.

Teaching Tolerance
Sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center, this website provides online curricula and activities related to hate-crimes, racial intolerance, and discrimination.

UNICEF Voices of Youth: The Teacher's Place
Information and discussion about general human rights education.

UNHCHR Database on Human Rights Education
Provides information on organizations, materials and programs for human rights education. The database is a contribution to the UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004) and aims to facilitate sharing of the many resources available in the area of human rights education and training.

Academic Resources

Journal of Law and Religion, Hamline University Law School
An international, interdisciplinary forum committed to studying law in its social context, including moral and religious views of law and life.

MOST Clearinghouse on Religious Rights
Through interdisciplinary, comparative, and culturally sensitive research, UNESCO’s MOST Programme aims at furnishing information useful for the peaceful and democratic management of societies characterized by ethnic, religious and linguistic pluralism.

Religious Freedom Page - Nation Profiles
Developed at the University of Virginia, this site examines the status of religious freedom around the world. A common format makes possible a quick overview of the materials available for any given country.

Religion and Law Research Consortium
A collaboration of international academic centers related to law and religion, provides a search engine for judicial decisions, statutes, and academic analyses and treatises.

Société, Droit et Religion en Europe (SDRE) - l'Université Robert Schuman

The Religion Case Reporter
Reports judicial opinions addressing the free exercise of religion, state establishment of religion, and the clergy and religious institutions; provides comprehensive and easily accessed information concerning any topic affected by religious practice or status.

Other Religion, Belief, and Human Rights Links

Center for Study on New Religions

Christian Solidarity Worldwide

International Christian Concern

L'Aumisme Religion Universelle de l'Unite des Visages de DIEU

Orthodox Christian Mission Center

Osservatorio delle Libertą ed Istituzioni Religiose

Soka Gakkai International

The Bahá'í International Community and the United Nations

The Religious Society of Friends

Thirdway Cafe: Mennonite Media

Voices of the Martyrs

Bibliography and Additional Resources


Amnesty International. Greece, 5,000 Years of Prison: Conscientious Objectors in Greece (Amnesty International Publications 1993).

O Andrysek. Non-Believers: A New Aspect of Religious Intolerance?, 2 Conscience & Liberty 15 No.2 (1990).

Elizabeth Odio Benito, Study of the Current Dimensions of the Problems of Intolerance and Discrimination on Grounds of Religion or Belief, E/CN.4/Sub.2/87/26 (United Nations 1987).

Cole Durham, Freedom of Religion or Belief: Laws Affecting The Structuring of Religious Communities, (paper prepared for the 1999 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Review Conference, Vienna, 1999).

J. Abraham Frowein, Freedom of Religion in the Practice of the European Commission and Court of Human Rights (ZAORV 249 1986).

Glen Johnson & Symonides Janusz, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNESCO Publishing 1998).

N. Koshy, Religious Freedom In A Changing World (World Council of Churches 1992).

Arcot Krishnaswami, Study of Discrimination in the Matter of Religious Rights and Practices, E/CN.4/Sub.2/200/Rev.1 (United Nations 1960).

Nate Lerner, Group Rights and Discrimination in International Law (Martinus Nijhoff 1991).

Tore Lindholm & Kari Vogt, Islamic Law Reform and Human Rights Challenges and Rejoinders (Nordic Publications 1993).

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights & International Service for Human Rights, The UN Commission on Human Rights, Its Sub-Commission, and Related Procedures: An Orientation Manual (Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights 1993).

Donna J. Sullivan, Gender Equality and Religious Freedom: Toward a Framework for Conflict Resolution, 24 N.Y.U. J . Int'l L. & Pol. 795 (1992).

Leonard Swidler & Paul Mojzes, Attitudes of Religions and Ideologies Toward the Outsider (Edwin Mellen Press 1990).

Bahiyyah G. Tahzib, Freedom of Religion or Belief: Ensuring Effective International Legal Protection (Kluwer Law International 1996).

Theo van Boven, Advances and Obstacles in Building Understanding and Respect Between People of Diverse Religions or Beliefs, 13 Human Rights Quarterly (1991).

J.A Walkate, The Right of Everyone to Change His Religion or Belief: Some Observations, Netherlands Int'l L. Rev., 146 (1983).

John Witte Jr. & Johan D. van der Vyver, Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective (Martinus Nijhoff 1996).

Additional resources (not available electronically)

CONGO Committees on Freedom of Religion or Belief
In 1991 and 1992 two committees comprised of non-governmental organizations were formed at the United Nations in New York and Geneva to support Article 18 and the 1981 UN Declaration. They function as part of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO), have consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and are composed of representatives of human rights and religious groups. Their purpose is to coordinate activities of NGO’s in the areas of promotion and protection of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.

The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief
In 1998, representatives of UN governmental and non-governmental organizations and of many religions or beliefs met in Oslo, Norway to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Oslo Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief adopted a declaration that led to the formation of The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, an international coalition dedicated to achieving substantial progress and practical support for implementation of Article 18 and the 1981 UN Declaration. A handbook on these purposes has been published in cooperation with the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights.

European Court of Human Rights
Article 9 of the 1950 European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms contains key provisions on freedom of religion or belief, and uses language closely paralleling that of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights (Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). The European Court of Human Rights, established in 1998 under the European Union, obtains Human Rights Documentation on cases relating to freedom of religion or belief in the European region.

Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw, Poland oversees OSCE programs on human rights and freedom of religion or belief. In 2000, under the auspices of ODIHR, an Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief was organized. Several ODIHR projects for 2002, including advisory panel activities, focus on the role of religion and laws on religion in Central and Eastern Europe and CIS countries. They are clearly committed to inclusive principles of freedom of religion or belief, but struggle at times to include non-religious beliefs in their programs.

Freedom of Religion and Belief: A World Report
In 1997 the University of Essex produced a World Report on Freedom of Religion or Belief (Routledge, London). The report, edited by Kevin Boyle and Juliet Sheen, is a study on freedom of religion and secular thought in over fifty countries of the world, and consists of short entries on each country. Entries are divided by region and introduced by a regional overview; themes include the relationships between belief groups and the state, freedom of manifest belief in law and practice, religion and schools, religious minorities, new religious movements, the impact of beliefs on the status of women, and conscientious objection to military service. The countries included in the report reflect a world geographical distribution and diversity of religious traditions.

Freedom of Religion or Belief: Laws Affecting the Structuring of Religious Communities
This is one of a series of papers prepared under the auspices of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE for the benefit of participants at the 1999 OSCE Review Conference. It summarizes international standards protecting freedom of religion or belief, regional decisions by the European Court of Human Rights on freedom of religion or belief, and relevant OSCE provisions relating to freedom of association and entity status of religious organizations. Much of the second section of the paper relates to Principle 16 of the Vienna Concluding Document, which recognizes the right to certain manifestations of religion or belief as recognized in Article 6 of the 1981 UN Declaration.

Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective
This series, published in 1996, includes one volume on legal perspectives and a second on religious perspectives. It consists of chapters by fifty authors on the religious human rights of most of the majority and minority religions of the world, and includes case studies. It is edited by John Witte Jr. and Johan Van der Vyver of Emory University, with a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Religion and Human Rights: Toward and Understanding of Tolerance and Reconciliation
This small pamphlet contains two lectures by David Chidester of the University of Cape Town, South Africa and David Little of Harvard Divinity School, Boston, MA, USA. It examines the principle of tolerance in international human rights instruments used to promote freedom of religion or belief, and looks at tools of reconciliation used to cope with the division, conflict and suffering in South Africa.

Religion and Human Rights: Basic Documents from Around the World

The Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University in New York has assembled basic documents on the human rights paradigm of freedom of religion or belief, and the religious paradigm of religious liberty. These documents include:

1. United States of America: Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
Adopted by the Virginia Legislature, and still the law of the state of Virginia; based on Thomas Jefferson’s religious freedom bill. The Supreme Court of the United States has looked to this and other historical documents to determine cases based on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, A Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

2. World Council of Churches: Declaration on Religious Liberty (1948)
Adopted in Amsterdam at the First Assembly of the World Council of Churches, a few months prior to adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It affirms that religious freedom is everywhere secured, and that Christians may not enjoy privileges that are denied to people of other religions or beliefs.

3. Declaration on Religious Freedom: Dignitatis Humanae (1965)
A declaration on religious freedom for the Catholic Church, adopted by the Second Vatican Council:. The first paragraph claims that the one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church. The title of “human dignity,” however, is extended to all members of the human family and to freedom of conscience without coercion. The title is close to the phrasing of the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

4. Spain: Religious Liberty Law (1980)
Enacted by the Parliament of Spain. Declares that no faith shall be the official State religion, and that rights deriving from freedom of worship and religion shall not be to the detriment of the rights of others. Grants religions legal status, and creates, in the Ministry of Justice, an Advisory Committee on Freedom of Worship.

5. People’s Republic of China: Document 19 (1982)
Issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Defines the position of the Party regarding religion, discusses religion as a historical phenomenon, and states that Communists are atheists and must propagate atheism.

6. The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (1990)
Adopted by the Foreign Ministers of the 55 state Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), formed in 1972. Membership is restricted to states in which Islam is the official state religion or Muslims form the majority population. There are 25 articles to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam on topics such as freedom of movement, work, education, burial, usury, property, environment, equality before the law, and freedom of expression. Article 24 declares that “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to Islamic Shari’a,” and article 25 states that “The Islamic Shari’a is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.”

7. Israel: Fundamental Agreement Between the Holy See and the State of Israel (1993)
Signed by the State of Israel and the Holy See. This agreement established full diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See, including an exchange of Ambassadors. The Holy See, recalling its Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae), affirms its commitment to uphold the right to freedom of religion and conscience, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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