Is President Obama’s Decision Right to Allow Freedom of Religion?

Religious leaders. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
Religious leaders. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A United Nations (UN) human rights expert on freedom of religion or belief has welcomed the United States’ legislative amendments aimed at protecting non-believers and atheists.

“This is an important development, as believers, atheists and non-believers must all be equally protected,” said the newly appointed Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

He added many humanists and non-believers are still widely stigmatized and persecuted around the world.

According to the UN, the U.S. President Barack Obama signed the amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act on Friday.

The OHCHR statement revealed that the promotion of atheist thought in any form is considered an act of terrorism in some countries. In others, any expression of non-belief or atheism is condemned as blasphemy or apostasy and receives harsh punishment, including the death sentence or attacks by vigilante groups.

“People often do not fully understand the scope of the international human right to religious freedom. It is not just about religions or beliefs, but it also covers the right to freedom of thought and conscience as provided by the Universal Declaration for Human Rights,” noted the Special Rapporteur.

धर्म क्या है? What is religion?
भाईयो और बहनों। क्या कभी कुत्ता कुत्ते को काटता हैनहीं। क्या कभी साँप साँप को डसता हैनहीं। क्या कभी शेर दूसरे शेर पर हमला करके उसे मारता हैनहीं। लेकिन आज पूरी दुनिया में आदमी आदमी को मार रहा है। और इस मार–काट का सबसे बड़ा कारण है धर्म और धर्म में लोगों का अन्धविश्वास। क्यों करते हैं आप धर्म पर विश्वास जो आपको दूसरे आदमी का दुश्मन बना रहा हैसिर्फ मानवता ही एक धर्म है जो हरेक इंसान को दूसरे इंसान से जोड़ता है। आइए सिर्फ मानवता को ही अपना धर्म बनाएं।

Humanity is the biggest and the purest religion. Any organized religion that believes in any identifiable God keeps people away from people by promoting religion-based groups. And organized religion has always been the cause of the most heinous crimes and killings in the world. Can we adopt only humanity as our religion?

Rakesh Raman

The expert said the terms “religion” and “belief” should be understood in a broad sense to include theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief.

“All of them have important roles to play in building pluralistic and inclusive societies for the 21st century that are peaceful and prosperous,” Mr. Shaheed stressed.

“In the face of increasing diversity, the freedom of religion or belief can be upheld only with the acceptance and full inclusion of atheists and non-believers,” he concluded.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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