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Freedom to Change One’s Religion: The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

July 16, 2010

Andalusia, Spain

Few people realize that freedom to change one’s religion is protected under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.  On December 10, 1948 the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the full text of which you can read here.   The declaration lifts us to the highest aspirations of freedom.

The preamble reads as follows:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, and

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,


The UN document is fairly brief, being comprised of 30 short articles.

Here are articles 18 and 19:

Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Now that Muslim governments are expelling Frontiers teams for “being a danger to society,” one may want to ask, “How many Muslim countries signed the “United Nations Declaration of Human Rights?” Answer: All of them.

All of them?

All Muslim nations signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights.   Saudi Arabia was the last to sign, in 1955, but only after Saudi Arabia formally outlawed slavery (thereby complying with article 4 of the UN Declaration). The freedom to change one’s religion? The freedom to worship with others in public or in private? All Muslim governments declared their intent to protect these freedoms, as well as freedom for women to marry only by their full consent and a hundred other ideal freedoms.

So what went wrong? More about that next time.

Next: A declaration by Muslim countries, The Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, says one thing in English but something different in Arabic and Persian.

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