Community gatherings to recognize freedom of religion

Bahá’í communities around Canada are holding open events this week to raise awareness of the importance of the freedom to choose one’s religion, to coincide with the anniversary of the adoption of a key United Nations document on the subject.

The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly 25 years ago. Its tenets include the right to choose one’s religion and the right of parents to raise their children according to the religion of their choosing.

The Bahá’ís of Iqaluit, Nunavut, will be holding a special program tomorrow, 25 November 2006, in which participants will have the chance to reflect on the values enshrined in the document. The gathering will include addresses on the topic of freedom of religion, live musical performances, and a slideshow. Local residents, civic officials, and representatives of other faiths groups have been invited.

For the Bahá’ís, the UN Declaration is significant from both a theoretical and a practical standpoint. The freedom to investigate and choose one’s religion is a core principle of the Bahá’í Faith. And since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the Bahá’í community there has struggled to be able to practice its religion freely and without severe interference from the government, a hope thus far unrealized.

Earlier this week, Member of Parliament Anthony Rota addressed the Canadian House of Commons about the struggles facing the Bahá’ís in Iran and encouraged Canadian UN delegates to make the denial of that community’s human rights one of their priorities.

While the UN Declaration was a milestone in international agreements when it was adopted 25 years ago, getting all of its signatories to commit to implementing its provisions has been one of the international community’s greatest challenges. The Bahá’í International Community released a statement in October of last year proposing measures to strengthen the Declaration’s authority. The proposals include making explicit the right to change one’s religion, as affirmed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and guaranteeing the rights of peacefully organized minority religious communities.

Commemorations of the anniversary have also been planned by the Bahá’ís in Brandon, Manitoba; Coquitlam, British Columbia; Fredericton, New Brunswick; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Ottawa, Ontario; among other cities.

Read the Bahá’í International Community statement here.

Read the original UN Declaration on freedom of religion here.

Read the statement made in the House of Commons on 22 November 2006 by Member of Parliament Anthony Rota here.