Freedom of religion or belief

The rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief are very closely related, both being “neighbours” in Articles 19 and 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively. Despite a common misperception that these rights stand in opposition to one another, both rights are essential ingredients to free and democratic societies.

Freedom of religion or belief is the right to hold and manifest any religion or belief, without compulsion, including the right to change or renounce one’s religion or belief, as well as the right not to hold a belief or religion. Laws that seek to limit forms of expression merely because they are based on or affiliated with a certain religion or belief are in violation of free expression, and of freedom of religion or belief. Often, these laws are discriminatory by design or in their impact, targeting the expression of minorities or marginalised groups, in particular the expression of women. Blanket restrictions on what an individual can or cannot wear, for example, laws requiring women to cover their faces or laws banning the covering of faces, violate both of these rights.

Equally, censorship that is supposedly “in the name of” religion, such as prohibitions on blasphemy, are in violation of these rights. While States are required to protect individuals from discrimination and incitement to violence based on their religion or belief, it does not give individuals a corresponding right to have their religions or beliefs insulated against scrutiny, insult, or ridicule.

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