The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the great moral statements of the 20th century, could not be clearer. It says that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion," including the right to change religion and to "manifest his religion in teaching, practice, worship and observance".
America's Founding Fathers, albeit living in a world where most people were assumed to be theists and Christians, used finer prose to affirm their belief in liberty. Given that God had endowed the human mind with freedom, said Thomas Jefferson, "all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness."
So it is sad to find that according to most people who study the subject, the cause of religious liberty is treading water at best, retreating at worst. Two decades have passed since the downfall of most of the regimes where atheism was state policy and religion existed only on sufferance; and over that time, liberal democracy has advanced. But political freedom and the religious sort do not always go together.
A report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, published this week, found that nearly 70% of the world's 6.8 billion people live in countries with "high restrictions" on religion. This refers both to official curbs on faith and to the hostility that believers endure at the hands of fellow citizens.
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