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Human Rights Need Religion

Last month, on December 14, 2023, I attended a remarkable meeting of religious leaders from around the world in Princeton University to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Common today is the view that religion is an enemy of human rights. The conference, though, recalled the remarkable consensus of world religious leaders that made the adoption of the UDHR possible in 1948, a story that Harvard Emeritus Professor Mary Ann Glendon has told in her book of 2002, A World Made New. Glendon was a starring speaker at the conference, along with Mr. Yahya Cholil Staquf, the General Secretary of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization and a strong proponent of religious freedom. Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Mormon, and Buddhist thought leaders were all in attendance. Behind the conference was the Center for Shared Civilizational Values, whose efforts are detailed here. The members agreed upon a “R20 Princeton Declaration” of support for human rights from the world’s religions. If the logic behind the declaration is correct, human rights will depend on religion if they to remain globally prominent in the next 75 years just as they depended on religion for being adopted in the UDHR.

I was asked to speak about the possibility of religions changing so as to support human rights. I answered by drawing upon my own religion, Catholicism, in a seven minute set of remarks:

One of the themes of Mary Ann Glendon’s masterful narration of the crafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, A World Made New, is supremely relevant for our consultation: her story of how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came to be supported by major world religious and philosophical traditions – Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Religions? Human rights? Have not religions long relegated their heretics and other religions’ minorities to ghettos, dhimmi status, inquisitions, crusades, and second class citizenship? Such skepticism is not altogether misplaced. Prior to and even during modern centuries, it has been rare for any religious tradition to uphold religious freedom, one of the UDHR’s most important human rights. Religious traditions, it seems, must be capable of change if they are to become part of a global consensus on human rights.

Read more at Arc of the Universe 

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