A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Religous Freedom: Principles and Application

In his recent address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Holy Father affirmed the "anthropological foundation" to religious freedom that was "renewed" with Vatican II.  Rooted in the natural law this right is universal and immutable.  At the same time, however, the Pope recognized that "every state has a sovereign right to promulgate its own legislation and will express different attitudes to religion in law."  What this means is that immutable principles may vary in application depending upon the circumstances or social context (Cf. CCC 2109).  Mary Ann Glendon, President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, put it another way by indicating that there can be no "one size fits all" model or juridical formulation for religious freedom: 

"Given the wide diversity of human societies, there cannot be one model of religious freedom that suits all countries.  Nor can one country's approach to religious liberty serve as a model for another if by "model" one means something that can simply be copied and transplanted. Each nation’s system is the product of its own distinctive history and circumstances...To accept that there are no universal models is not to deny that religious freedom is a universal right.  Rather, it is to recognize that there must be room for a degree of pluralism in modes of bringing religious freedom and other fundamental human rights to life under diverse cultural circumstances...That was the approach taken by the Second Vatican Council which affirmed in Dignitatis Humanae that there could be several valid ways to implement that right."

This corresponds to the fact that the exercise of a natural right is never considererd ulimited and unqualified.  Under various circumstances the exercise of a right can be justly moderated by law (in view of the common good) without doing violence to the fundamental right of the human person.  The practical implication is that the "due limits" to religious freedom will vary as determined by prudence according to the particular circumstances and social context (CCC 2109).


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