A mounting global threat is living with our deepest differences. This comes out in three main areas: Government repression (for instance, by the Chinese Communist Party in the People’s Republic of China), or sectarian violence (with groups such as Boko Haram, the violent Jihadist terrorist organisation in Nigeria), or the increasing Western Culture wars (and divisive fights over abortion, marriage, and other social issues).
The danger is the debate can become dominated by duelling extremes: one is the ‘sacred public square’ in which one particular religion is established or preferred to the point where all other faiths are excluded or treated as second class; the other is the ‘naked public square’, where all religions are strictly excluded and religious voices are allowed no place in public life. (Atheists often appear to have this vision for America and Britain). Neither of these options create freedom to believe for everyone else.
The Global Charter of Conscience, drafted by OCCA Senior Fellow Dr. Os Guinness, sets out freedom of thought, conscience and religion for everyone; that is people of all faiths and none. It calls for the cultivation of civility in dealing with our deepest disagreements and the construction of a civil public square that maximises freedom for everyone.
The Charter advocates civility in the public square which means everyone can be free to engage in public life. While there are endless studies on religious rights and religious freedom, the Charter represents the first new constructive vision for Europe and the world. It is not a re-writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but rather a re-affirmation of it.
Dr. Os Guinness is calling for every citizen to be ‘free to be faithful’. He goes on: ‘This is not an ecumenical document calling for interfaith dialogue; these are articles of peace articulating the crux of what needs to happen so all people can be free to be faithful and to respect the freedom of conscience of others’.
The Charter underscores the elements that are needed for freedom of thought, conscience and religion to be established firmly in any country, but it only claims to be the first of the three: It is a declaration of the principles which would then need to be followed by legal implementation which in turn would need to be followed by civic education so that freedom becomes in Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous term the habits of the heart. In the UK, our British system appears increasingly unstable. State-imposed multi-culturalism has impinged on freedom of thought, conscience and religion of one group over another.
Dr. Os Guinness launched the Charter in Brussels at an event attended by many key European Union officials, and was then asked to give the inaugural Premier Lecture which is a planned series of annual radio lectures by Premier, featuring an acknowledged expert in their field. Dr. Guinness spoke in London on ‘Soul Freedom; Living with our deepest differences in an age of expanding diversity’ . You can hear the lecture and read the Charter here.
The Charter has been backed by key experts in the field including Prof Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
“This is a powerful document,” he said. “It has enormous potential to inspire practical commitment and to contribute to a better understanding of human rights in general.” Press reaction to the Charter is here in the Christian Post and here in Christianity Today. Dr. Os Guinness is the son of missionaries to China, and was born during some the most chaotic years of that country’s history. Watch Os tell his own personal story with over fifty years in the faith.