New Vatican Document shows Religious Freedom is being Violated even in Democracies

The International Theological Commission - Subcommission on Relgious Freedom of the Vatican has recently published a Document entitled "Religious liberty for the good of all." 
Only the first chapter is presented here showing that Religious Freedom is being violated globally and also in democratic countries.

Theological Approach to Contemporary Challenges:

1. In 1965 the Conciliar Declaration Dignitatis humanae was approved in a historical context that was significantly different from the current one, also with regard to the topic that constituted its central topic, namely that of religious freedom in the modern world. Its courageous clarification of the Christian reasons for respect for the religious freedom of individuals and communities, within the framework of the rule of law and the practices of the justice of civil societies, still arouses our admiration. The Council's contribution, which we can well define as prophetic, offered the Church a horizon of credibility and appreciation that greatly helped her evangelical witness in the context of contemporary society.

2. Meanwhile, a new protagonism of the religious and national traditions of the Middle East and Asia has significantly changed the perception of the relationship between religion and society. The great religious traditions of the world no longer appear only as the remnant of ancient eras and pre-modern cultures overcome by history. The different forms of religious belonging have a new impact on the constitution of personal identity, on the interpretation of the social bond and on the search for the common good. In many secularized societies the different forms of religious community are still socially perceived as relevant factors of intermediation between individuals and the State. The relatively new element, in today's configuration of these models, can be recognized in the fact that, today, this relevance of religious communities is committed to ask - directly or indirectly - for the democratic-liberal model of the rule of law and of the techno-economic direction of civil society.

3. Wherever in the world today there is the problem of religious freedom, this concept is discussed in reference - positive or negative - to a conception of human rights and civil liberties which is associated with liberal, democratic, pluralistic and secular political culture . The humanistic rhetoric that appeals to the values ​​of peaceful coexistence, individual dignity, intercultural and interreligious dialogue is expressed in the language of the modern liberal state. On the other hand, even more profoundly, it draws on the Christian principles of the dignity of the person and of the closeness between men, which have contributed to the formation and universalization of that language.

4. Today's religious radicalization, referred to as "fundamentalism", in the context of different political cultures, does not seem a simple more "observant" return to traditional religiosity. This radicalization is often characterized by a specific reaction to the liberal conception of the modern state, due to its ethical relativism and its indifference to religion. On the other hand, the liberal state appears to many to be criticizable also for the opposite reason: that is, for the fact that its proclaimed neutrality does not seem able to avoid the tendency to consider the professed faith and religious affiliation an obstacle for the admission to the full cultural and political citizenship of individuals. A form of "soft totalitarianism", one might say, which makes it particularly vulnerable to the spread of ethical nihilism in the public sphere.
5. The alleged ideological neutrality of a political culture that claims to want to build on the formation of purely procedural rules of justice, removing all ethical justification and all religious inspiration, shows the tendency to elaborate an ideology of neutrality which, in fact, imposes the marginalization, if not exclusion, of religious expression from the public sphere. And therefore, from the full freedom of participation in the formation of democratic citizenship. From here comes the ambivalence of a neutrality of the public sphere only apparent and of an objectively discriminating civil liberty. A civil culture that defines its humanism through the removal of the religious component of the human, is forced to remove also decisive parts of its own history: of its own knowledge, of its own tradition, of its own social cohesion. The result is the removal of ever more substantial parts of humanity and citizenship from which society itself is formed. The reaction to the humanistic weakness of the system even makes the arrival at a desperate fanaticism: atheistic or even theocratic, seem justified for many (especially young people). The incomprehensible attraction exercised by violent and totalitarian forms of political ideology, or religious militancy, which seemed to have been consigned to the judgment of reason and history, must question us in a new way and with greater depth of analysis.

6. In contrast to the classical thesis, which provided for the reduction of religion as an inevitable effect of technical and economic modernization, there is talk today of the return of religion to the public scene. The automatic correlation between civil progress and the extinction of religion, in truth, had been formulated on the basis of an ideological prejudice, which saw religion as the mythical construction of a human society not yet in control of the rational instruments capable of producing emancipation and well-being of the society. This scheme has proved inadequate, not only in relation to the true nature of religious conscience, but also in reference to the naive trust turned to the humanistic effects of technological modernization. Nevertheless, it is precisely theological reflection that has helped to clarify, in these decades, the strong ambiguities of what was hastily referred to as the return of religion. This so-called "return", in fact, also presents aspects of "regression" towards personal values ​​and democratic coexistence that are at the base of the humanistic conception of the political order and social bond. Many phenomena associated with the new presence of the religious factor in the political and social sphere appear to be completely heterogeneous - if not contradictory - with respect to the authentic tradition and cultural development of the great historical religions. New forms of religiosity, cultivated in the wake of arbitrary contaminations between the search for psycho-physical well-being and pseudo-scientific constructions of the vision of the world and of the self, appear rather to the believers themselves, as disturbing deviations of religious orientation. Not to mention the crude religious motivation of some forms of totalitarian fanaticism, which aim to impose terrorist violence, even within the great religious traditions.

7. The gradual post-modern subtraction of the commitment to truth and transcendence certainly raises the political and juridical theme of religious freedom in new terms. On the other hand, the theories of the liberal state that think of it as radically independent of the contribution of argumentation and the testimony of religious culture must conceive of it as more vulnerable to the pressure of the forms of religiosity - or pseudo-religiosity - that seek to to assert itself in the public space outside the rules of a respectful cultural dialogue and a civil democratic confrontation. The protection of religious freedom and social peace presupposes a state that not only develops logics of mutual cooperation between religious communities and civil society, but shows itself capable of activating the circulation of an adequate culture of religion. Civil culture must overcome the prejudice of a purely emotional or ideological vision of religion. Religion, in turn, must be incessantly stimulated to elaborate in a humanistically understandable language the vision of reality and coexistence that inspire it.
8. Christianity - Catholicism in a specific way, and precisely with the seal of the Council - has conceived a line of development of its religious quality that passes through the repudiation of every attempt to exploit political power, even if practiced in view of a proselytism of faith. Evangelization today addresses the positive enhancement of a context of religious and civil liberty of conscience, which Christianity interprets as a historical, social and cultural space conducive to an appeal of faith that does not want to be confused with taxation, or take advantage of a state of awe of man. The proclamation of religious freedom, which must apply to everyone, and the testimony of a transcendent truth, which does not impose itself by force, appear to be deeply adherent to the inspiration of faith. The Christian faith, by its nature, is open to positive confrontation with the human reasons of truth and good, which the history of culture brings to light in the life and thought of peoples. The freedom of the search for words and the signs of God's truth, and the passion for the brotherhood of men, always go together.

9. The recent transformations of the religious scenario, as well as of humanistic culture, in the political and social life of peoples, confirm - if it were necessary - that the relations between these two aspects are close, profound, and of vital importance for the quality of coexistence and for the orientation of existence. In this perspective, the search for the most adequate forms to guarantee the best possible conditions for their interaction, in freedom and peace, are a decisive factor for the common good and for the historical progress of human civilizations. The imposing season of migrations of entire peoples, whose lands are now rendered hostile to life and coexistence, above all due to an endemic settlement of poverty and a permanent state of war, are creating, within the West , structurally interreligious, intercultural, inter-ethnic societies. Is it not time to discuss, beyond the emergency, the fact that history seems to impose the true invention of a new future for the construction of models of the relationship between religious freedom and civil democracy? The treasure of culture and faith that we have inherited over the centuries, and which we have freely accepted, should it not really generate a humanism that is in keeping with the appeal of history, capable of responding to the demand for a more habitable land?

10. With reference to the "signs of the times" to come, which have already begun to happen, it is necessary to have adequate tools to update Christian reflection, religious dialogue, and civil confrontation. Resignation, faced with the hardness and complexity of some involutions of the present, would be an unjustifiable weakness with regard to the responsibility of faith. The bond of religious freedom and human dignity has also become politically central: the two are held tightly together, in a way that today appears definitively clear. A believing Church that lives within human societies increasingly characterized in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic sense - this seems to be the movement of history - must be able to develop in time a competence suitable for the new existential condition of its testimony of faith. A condition not so different, moreover, on closer inspection, from that in which Christianity was sent to sow and was able to flourish.

11. This document begins by recalling the teaching of the Conciliar Declaration Dignitatis humanae and its reception, in the magisterium and in theology, after the Second Vatican Council (cf. chapter 2). Then, in a synthetic outline of the principles, above all anthropological, of the Christian understanding of religious freedom, it is a question of the religious freedom of the person first in his individual dimension (cf. chapter 3) and then in his community dimension, emphasizing between the another is the value of religious communities as intermediate bodies in social life (cf. chapter 4). The two aspects are inseparable in reality, however, since the rooting of religious freedom in the personal condition of the human being indicates the ultimate foundation of his inalienable dignity, it seems useful to proceed with this order. Subsequently religious freedom towards the State is considered and some clarification is offered with regard to the contradictions registered in the ideology of that conception of State religiously, ethically, value neutral (cf. chapter 5). In the final chapters, the document focuses on the contribution of religious freedom to coexistence and social peace (see chapter 6), before highlighting the central place of religious freedom in the mission of the Church today (cf. chapter 7) .
12. The general approach of the reflection that we propose in the text can be briefly outlined in these terms. We do not intend to propose an academic text on the many aspects of the debate on religious freedom. The complexity of the theme, both from the point of view of the various factors of personal and social life that are involved, and from the point of view of the interdisciplinary perspectives which it calls into question, is common evidence. Our fundamental methodological choice can be summarized as a theological-hermeneutical reflection, in a dual purpose. (a) First, to propose a reasoned update on the reception of Dignitatis humanae. (b) Secondly, to explain the reasons for the right integration - anthropological and political - between the personal and the community instance of religious freedom. The need for this clarification depends essentially on the need for the Church's own social doctrine to take into account the most relevant historical evidences of the new global experience.

13. The absolute ethical-religious indifference of the State weakens civil society towards the discernment required for the application of a truly liberal and democratic right, capable of effectively taking into account the community forms that interpret the social bond in view of the common good. At the same time, the correct elaboration of the thought on religious freedom in the public sphere, asks of Christian theology itself an in-depth study of the cultural complexity of today's civil form, capable of theoretically blocking the path to regression in a theocratic key of common law. The underlying theme of the clarification proposed here is inspired by the usefulness of keeping the personalistic, community and Christian principles of everyone's religious freedom closely linked, both anthropologically and theologically. The development does not aspire (nor could it) to the systematic nature of the "treaty". In this sense, therefore, we should not expect from this text a detailed theoretical exposition of the categories (political and ecclesiological) that are involved. On the other hand, it is common knowledge that many of these categories are exposed to fluctuations in meaning: both because of the different cultural context of employment, and according to the different ideologies of reference. Despite this objective limit, imposed by the subject itself and by its evolution, this updating tool will be able to offer a valid help for a better level of understanding and communication of Christian witness. Both in the area of ​​ecclesial awareness with regard to the right respect for the humanistic values ​​of the faith; both within the current conflict of interpretations on the doctrine of the State, which calls for a better elaboration of the new relationship between the civil community and religious affiliation, not only theological, but also anthropological and political.