Article | Last updated: 2015-04-20 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Freedom of religion or belief means that all people have the freedom to practise their religion or belief, either alone or in community with others, in public or private. It also covers the freedom to convert to another religion, to question another’s religion or belief, or to have no religion or belief.
Freedom of religion or belief is closely linked to freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and freedom of association and assembly.
Violence, intolerance and discrimination based on religious affiliation or faith is a problem, even in established democracies. Religious minorities are most often affected, and may find their freedom of religion or belief restricted in relation to the religion of the majority of the population. This can also apply to minority groups within the majority religions. In some countries, however, the majority of the population is subjected to discrimination by a ruling minority.
Sometimes, freedom of religion or belief is misused to limit the rights of individuals or to deprive them of their rights, as in the case of practices that discriminate against women, or when states use freedom of religion and belief as a pretext to justify measures that are illegal. The pressure on freedom of religion or belief is greatest in times of major political and economic upheaval, when differences of religion or belief can be used politically to split the population and consolidate a power base. Developments in the Middle East show that extreme situations can arise, involving the persecution and even mass killing of religious minorities.
The right to freedom of religion or belief should protect individuals, not ideologies or religions. Banning religious criticism may lead to censorship on religious issues, to the detriment of religious minorities, human rights defenders and journalists. The Norwegian authorities therefore take a stand against groups of countries and organisations that seek to limit freedom of expression with a view to preventing criticism of religions or religious figures.
In order to raise the issue of the situation for religious minorities in other countries with credibility, the Norwegian authorities must also be willing to examine the situation of religious minorities in Europe, both today and in the past. Norway therefore participates actively in international efforts to promote Holocaust remembrance, for example through membership in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organisation whose mandate includes education, research and the preservation of war monuments.
The Norwegian authorities also work to promote freedom of religion or belief at the multilateral level and bilaterally, with particular emphasis on the situation of religious minorities. Long-term awareness-raising activities and the involvement of religious and faith-based organisations are necessary in order to improve the situation of religious minorities. Norway cooperates closely with civil society organisations and like-minded countries in this work.
- seek to ensure that national authorities promote and respect freedom of religion or belief, both in legislation and in practice, and work to improve the situation of religious minorities;
- work to ensure that religious and belief groups respect human rights, both within their own groups and in relation to society as a whole;
- seek to ensure that respect for religion does not limit freedom of expression or other human rights.
Guidelines for the Foreign Service
- OHCHR: combating discrimination based on religion or belief
- UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief