News Release

Church Honours Freedom of Religion or Belief at the European Union on International Human Rights Day

On 10 December, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrated International Human Rights Day by organising a conference with Elmar Brok MEP, Chair of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, and partner organisations of the European Platform on Religion Intolerance and Discrimination (EPRID) on “Religion, Security & Human Rights,” at the European Parliament.

Keynote speakers included Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. He was joined by Prof. Cole Durham, Director of the Brigham Young University International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Dr. Kishan Manocha, Senior Advisor at OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Dr. Liviu Olteanu, Secretary General & Director of Conscience and Liberty from the Association Internationale pour la Défense de la Liberté Religieuse and Ms. Kalpna Devi, Human Rights Defender from Pakistan. The panel of experts focused upon the nexus of state security, extremism and freedom of religion or belief, and explored different sets of international guidelines to promote and protect this universal human right.

"I don’t speak of religious or sectarian violence but rather violence in the name of religion or God.  From this perspective, religion is a part, but only an incidental part of the issue,“ said Dr. Bielefeldt. Institutional respect,” he continued, “is what is needed, [so that citizens] can live without fear, recognising that people’s existential need to express their religion safely must be protected.”

Addressing the subject from the point of view of the OSCE, Dr. Manocha commented that “Freedom of religion or belief is not granted as a 'concession' or 'act of mercy by any government, but it is of integral value to protecting security in all its dimensions.”

Kalpna Devi, a human rights defender from Pakistan, shared her personal experiences of being persecuted and harassed in her country solely because of her Hindu faith.

Dr. Olteanu talked about the importance of training the trainers in order to generate “a culture of respect, which is much needed to counter terrorism and fully live freedom of religion or belief.”

In closing the panel of experts, Prof. Durham reminded that “when violence happens, security tends to be tightened, and most immediate responses by politicians mostly aim at gathering consensus.” Therefore, he suggested the “need of wiser, counter-intuitive approaches.” “Freedom of religion or belief,” he concluded, “is not a magic wand that guarantees peace but without it, there can’t be peace at all.”

On the preceding evening, 9 December, the Church honoured Dr Bielefeldt at a private dinner with partners from EPRID, diplomats, members of the European Parliament, representatives from the European Commission, churches, civil society and other distinguished guests. Elder Paul Johnson, First Counsellor in the Europe Area Presidency of the Church, presided at the event.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has since its foundation valued religious freedom – not just for itself but for all faiths, all beliefs and all people. It stands ready to defend that freedom for all,” said Elder Johnson in his introductory remarks.

“Freedom of conscience cannot be put to one side because it is about our humanity. It is much more than freedoms of association and speech, which some only want for the secular view. Freedom of religion is about the innermost values to be passed on to the next generation. It must be valued and protected. Human beings are at the centre of all of these questions.” said Dr Bielefeldt in his remarks.

“It was an honour for our Church to recognise and congratulate Dr Bielefeldt on his commitment to support and to protect the universal right to freedom of religion or belief,” concluded Elder Johnson.

With its European headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, the Church is strongly committed to work with the European Union institutions on issues related to Faith, Family and Freedom of religion or belief, to promote and secure the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all people in Europe and internationally. The European Union Office of the Church in Brussels seeks opportunities to serve the European community through its political and institutional bodies, and by partnering with international NGOs, religious bodies and civil society.

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