The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

NGOs urge UN to fight bias against all faiths

February 1, 2005, 6:34 pm

By Reuters
Paris

The United Nations should stop paying special attention to discrimination against Jews, Muslims and Christians and treat all religious prejudice equally, according to an appeal by Christian and human rights groups.

The non-governmental groups have urged the UN Human Rights Commission to reverse recent steps to highlight anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Christianophobia because they implied a hierarchy favoring the "religions of the book."

"No form of intolerance or discrimination based on actual or supposed religion or belief, or non-belief, is acceptable," they said in a statement submitted for the Geneva-based Commission's annual conference scheduled from March 14 to April 22.

Prompted by the Vatican and several traditionally Catholic countries, the Commission agreed at its 2004 conference to add the term Christianophobia to a "special problems" list requiring monitoring of discrimination against Jews and Muslims.

The new term got a mixed response. Some rights activists supported it while others expressed concern that listing specific religions diluted the overall commitment to defend freedom of religion for everyone everywhere.

The statement was submitted by Christian groups representing Quakers, Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Franciscan order as well as the International Association for Religious Freedom and the International Service for Human Rights.

"It's not that we're not concerned about religious discrimination against certain groups - on the contrary, we are very concerned," said Rachel Brett of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva. "But we're equally concerned about everyone."

Christianity and Islam are the world's largest faiths, with an estimated 2 billion and 1.3 billion members respectively. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and the ranks of atheists and agnostics all count more than Judaism's estimated 14 million adherents.

Human rights diplomats at the United Nations and the Vienna-based Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe said Buddhist and Sikh groups might start pressing for special consideration now that Christians had been singled out.

The statement said listing only "religions of the book" - the three monotheisms that trace their lineage from the Biblical prophet Abraham
- "creates an impression of a hierarchy - either of religions or of victims/discrimination or both."

This also ignores strains among different groups within the same religion, it argued. "The implication that religious intolerance and discrimination are only practiced by 'outsiders' is not only wrong but misleading."

Peter Prove of the Lutheran World Federation, one of the groups involved, added this would also overlook issues of conscience that might not be based on a religious belief system, such as a commitment to pacifism.

"Once you start listing, then where do you stop?" he asked.

Doudou Diene, the UN special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia whose reports first used the term Christianophobia, told Reuters recently that the Commission was equally concerned with all religious discrimination.

He noted the many cases around the world that it investigated at its meetings showed it did not focus only on intolerance against Jews, Muslims and Christians.

He said some countries tried "to put a hierarchy among different forms of discrimination" but did not name them.

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