[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt [official website] said Tuesday that states should refrain from using official state religions [press release] as a means to enhance their national identity politics, “as this may have detrimental effects for the situation of individuals from minority communities.” The statement was part of a presentation at the UN Human Rights Council session of his report [text, PDF] on freedom of religion, belief and recognition issues. The report summarizes improvements that have been made since the last report was made and clears up issues concerning differing definitions of “recognition” of religion and beliefs. According to the report:
In keeping with the universalistic understanding of human rights, States must ensure that all individuals can enjoy their freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief on the basis of respect for their self-understanding in this entire area. Respect for freedom of religion or belief as a human right does not depend on administrative registration procedures, as freedom of religion or belief has the status of a human right, prior to and independent from any acts of State approval.
Bielefeldt urged states to “offer appropriate options and procedures for religious or belief communities to achieve a status of legal personality if they so wish.”
Controversy over separation of church and state and state recognition of religions is an issue for many countries. In August Hungarian churches challenged a law [JURIST report] that officially recognized only 14 of the 358 religious groups in the country. That same month, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld [JURIST report] a public university’s denial of funding to Christian groups that required members to be of the same religion. In March, the Europe Court of Human Rights decided display of a crucifix in public schools [JURIST report] did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. The UN has typically been a defender of freedom of religion, condemning a Switzerland ban on building minarets in 2009, as well as adopting a resolution [JURIST reports] encouraging countries to adopt defamation of religion laws.