VATICAN CITY, May 6, 2011 ( – In a recent address to the Pontifical Academy on Social Sciences, Pope Benedict XVI lamented the attack on the basic human right of religious freedom in today’s society.

“Today these basic human rights are again under threat from attitudes and ideologies which would impede free religious expression. Consequently, the challenge to defend and promote the right to freedom of religion and freedom of worship must be taken up once more in our days,” said the pope.

The Pontifical Academy (PASS) held its seventeenth plenary session this week on the theme of “Universal Rights in a World of Diversity: the Case of Religious Freedom.”  The PASS was founded by the newly-beatified Pope John Paul II in 1994.


A particular focus of the session was the growing “secular fundamentalism” in Western countries, such as the United States and Canada, which “considers religious believers a threat to secular, liberal democratic politics.” 

“The right to religious freedom should be viewed as innate to the fundamental dignity of every human person,” said Pope Benedict. “In fact, authentic freedom of religion will permit the human person to attain fulfilment and will thus contribute to the common good of society.”

Professor Mary Ann Glendon, President of the PASS, emphasized the importance of religious freedom particularly in the political sphere, where it is so often marginalized today. 

“One of the principal ways in which religious liberty is violated is by construing it so narrowly as to confine it to the private sphere,” Professor Glendon said. “To abolish religion from the public sphere … does not resolve conflicts but merely papers them over.”

“Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and sceptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life,” said Glendon, quoting at length from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus (46).

“Even in countries where religious liberty has a long and apparently secure constitutional foundation, the suspicion of those religious believers who claim to know truths about the human person leads to marginalization and even outright discrimination,” added Glendon. “Many democratic states harbour within them totalitarian impulses which threaten religious liberty.”

Professor Glendon spoke to the evidence of studies pointing to “significant positive correlation” between religious freedom and economic, social, and political goods, when religious freedom was upheld in the political sphere.

One study, said Glendon, concludes “‘the presence of religious freedom in a country mathematically correlates with the longevity of democracy’ and with the presence of civil and political liberty, women’s advancement, press freedom, literacy, lower infant mortality, and economic freedom.”

To view complete summaries of the plenary session, click here and here.


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