Article 18: Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion.

  • 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.

Freedom of thought is the right to hold our own viewpoint separate from others. It is the right to disagree and agree. A German folk-song sings, “Thoughts are free, who can guess them? […] No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them with powder and lead. And so it will always be: Thoughts are free!” Conscience is said to be what separates humans from other animals. Conscience is the ability to distinguish right from wrong, good from the bad. It is the feelings we experience based on our own and others, choices, and actions, whether that be guilty or pleased.  It is our viewpoints, our morals; values, and ethics, without which human society would suffer, for what is a human without conscience?

The freedom of conscience and thought together is the right to a free mind. The freedom to come to one’s own conclusions, ideas, viewpoints, and values. This article of the UDHR serves to prevent and protect against attacks on our thoughts and conscience. With the technological and pharmaceutical advancements in the modern-day, it is not hard to imagine a future where we might experience intrusion of our conscience and corruption of our thoughts.

The topic of freedom of religion is more well known as it is greatly discussed and violated across the world. The freedom of religion grants every human the right to believe, practice, and change acknowledged religions. This in general also means the right to wear religious clothes or symbols, perform each religion’s practices, etc. Everyone may practice their religion alone as well as together with others. But also the right to not belong to a religion or a belief. Religion, for many, holds a great personal and spiritual value, which makes it a sensitive but important topic of discussion. Therefore, freedom of religion has some limits in most countries stating that religious belief is not a license to spread hatred, commit violence against followers of other faiths or suppress and discriminate against women. All over the world, we see violations of this right. Intolerance of the religions or their followers is seen in many countries. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms report from 2019 found that the states of 16 countries either engaged or tolerated violations of religious freedom. A few examples include Myanmar where Buddhist monks are not allowed to practice. In other countries like Pakistan, extremist political parties used hate speech and threats of religious minorities to suppress Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs.

Written by Nanna Orloff Mortensen and Natalia Colmenar

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