Pope Francis Urges Respect for ‘Incomparable Right’ of Religious Freedom

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young refugees during a visit to the Vrazhdebna refugee camp, on the outskirts of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, on May 6, 2019. - Pope Francis urged Bulgarians to open their hearts and doors to refugees during a visit to the European Union's poorest …

ROME — Pope Francis underscored the preeminence of religious liberty Friday, calling this freedom an “incomparable right” that must be respected for the sake of the common good.

Speaking to members of the International Theological Commission, the pope praised their work on the issue of religious freedom. At the same time, the pontiff denounced the modern idea of an ethically neutral state because of its “ambiguous liquidity,” saying that such a concept can lead to “an unjust marginalization of religions from civilian life at the expense of the common good.”

“Sincere respect for religious freedom, cultivated in a fruitful dialogue between state and religions, and between religions themselves, is instead a great contribution to the good of all and to peace,” Francis insisted.

Pope Francis has often stressed the centrality of religious liberty and in his very first public address on American soil in 2015, he told then-President Obama religious liberty is “one of America’s most precious possessions” that must be defended from all threats.

All Americans are called to be vigilant “to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it,” he said.

During that trip, the pope also called religious freedom a “fundamental right” that must be defended from “tyranny.”

“In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others,” he said.

In his repeated calls for the defense of religious liberty, Francis has spoken in continuity with his predecessors, in particular Saint John Paul II, who held up religious freedom as “the source and synthesis” of human rights, understood as “the right to live in the truth of one’s faith and in conformity with one’s transcendent dignity as a person.”

Even if not all believe in the truth of God’s existence, “the many who are convinced of it have the right to be respected for their faith and for their life-choice, individual and communal, that flows from that faith,” John Paul wrote. “This is the right of freedom of conscience and religious freedom, the effective acknowledgment of which is among the highest goods and the most serious duties of every people that truly wishes to assure the good of the person and society.”

“Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights, and for this reason an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of the whole of society, as well as of the personal fulfilment of each individual,” he said.

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