Denying Religion Makes a Society an 'Enemy of Freedom,' Vatican Official Says

A society that does not include religious views and challenges in public debate becomes an "enemy of freedom," said the Vatican's foreign minister.

Especially when it comes to talking about human rights, "we must avoid the temptation to exclude arbitrarily cultures or worldviews that are religious, or to accuse them of not respecting determined standards, or to reduce the understanding of the human person to the lowest common denominator," said Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher.

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By failing to listen to the concepts and challenges offered by world religions in important discussions together with secularist perspectives, a pluralistic society "will never be authentic pluralism, and will instead risk falling into a uniform single-mindedness, the enemy of freedom," he said.

The archbishop spoke June 8 at high-level seminar on "Building inclusive societies together: Contributions to Sarajevo's exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue," organized by the Vatican's permanent mission to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.

The seminar was meant to offer ideas in the run-up to the council's annual "Exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue," which will be held this year in Sarajevo Sept. 8-9. The Vatican released a copy of Archbishop Gallagher's speech June 9.

Conflicting interpretations exist regarding the world and the human person, specifically in understandings of marriage and family, the defense of human life and responsibility toward those in need, he said.

No one should be excluded from public discussions touching on those issues and on ways to build a common culture of human rights, he said.

"A religious understanding of the human person can and must make a specific contribution to this common culture, in dialogue with philosophies of man that tend to exclude any reference to transcendence," he said, otherwise "the entire culture of human rights, even those of non-believers, would be greatly impoverished."

A healthy exchange between reason and religion, he said, "is an antidote to all forms of fundamentalism" and helps reason "avoid simplistic forms of reductionism."

"No one has a monopoly on the culture of human rights. To deny or to conceal differences serves nobody," he said.

"What is important, however, is to make concerted efforts to rediscover that which we hold in common," and values "for the survival and genuine advancement of each society."

Religious freedom is a key factor in the development of a democratic society, the archbishop said. In fact, "religious freedom is like a barometer which indicates accurately the true level of freedom within a society."

"Restrictions of religious freedom lead to a weakening of the democratic fiber of society" and fostering religious freedom seems critical for "averting and countering the phenomena of extremist violence and radicalization," he said.

Even in democratic societies, he said, it takes a lot of effort to uphold true religious liberty.

For example, in a "highly secularized society, public displays of faith are quickly seen as problematic: there is the temptation to restrict the right of religious freedom in the workplace, in institutions of learning or in health facilities," he said.

"Those who wish legitimately to work according to the principles deriving from their religious beliefs run the risk of being accused of discrimination," so it is important principles such as "reasonable accommodation" be applied.

Nations and communities have a basic duty to protect religious freedom and promote dialogue for many reasons, he said.

As societies become more and more multicultural and multireligious, "if religions are not part of the solution, they can easily become part of the problem," Archbishop Gallagher said.

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