Saudi sponsored UN interfaith conference

There have a been a number of news reports over the past day or so about the ongoing conference at the United Nations where leaders of the worlds religions are meeting. What’s particularly interesting to many is that this conference has the King of Saudi Arabia as a full participant, a first for this sort of conference since the rise of the House of Saud in holy land of Islam.

But while much of the coverage about the King’s participation has been laudatory, there are those who see this event as possibly having an alarming consequence.

In an Op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor two members of the United States Human Rights Commission point out:

“The UN session is designed to endorse a meeting of religious leaders in Spain last summer that was the brainchild of King Abdullah and organized by the Muslim World League. That meeting resulted in a final statement counseling promotion of ‘respect for religions, their places of worship, and their symbols … therefore preventing the derision of what people consider sacred.’

The lofty-sounding principle is, in fact, a cleverly coded way of granting religious leaders the right to criminalize speech and activities that they deem to insult religion. Instead of promoting harmony, however, this effort will exacerbate divisions and intensify religious repression.

Such prohibitions have already been used in some countries to restrict discussion of individuals’ freedom vis-à-vis the state, to prevent criticism of political figures or parties, to curb dissent from prevailing views and beliefs, and even to incite and to justify violence.

They undermine the standards codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the keystone of the United Nations, by granting greater rights to religions than to individuals, including those who choose to hold no faith – or who would seek to convert.”

Read the full essay here.

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