Human rights article review:
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.
This article aimed to establish thought, worship and conscience as basic human rights to be respected by individuals and governments. These rights are now internationally recognized thus protecting the individual anywhere he was in the world.
Article 18 aims at ascending the human spirit and morality by recognizing the right to religious worship and belief with full freedom and liberty because religion is personal between man and his god, regardless the nature and identity of his god. No man should be forced to worship what he wants since worship is the product of conviction and self-consciousness.
And because human beings have the right to think freely, to balance between what is good for them and what is not, to weigh facts and beliefs, and to be or not to be convinced with what they are thinking of, therefore, they have to change their religious beliefs freely, without criticism from others or the majority, and more importantly, without persecution.
But are these rights really respected in human societies, especially in the Middle East? In Islam, a Muslim who renegades to become a Christian, Jew, Buddhist or whatever, is convicted as an infidel and death is his end, if not by the state, then by zealous Muslims who will not accept his change of religion. Similarly, a Christian Lebanese who changes his religion will not be left to do that freely. It is true that the state will not persecute him, but his own people will harass him, considering him a traitor and a renegade.
This is exactly what Article 18 deals with. It does not only deal with the persecution of the individual by the state, but also his harassment by his own society since he has not chosen their religion. The aim of Article 18 is not only to make states recognize the rights of individuals to free religious worship but also to establish this right as a general right for all humans all over the world, and to make societies aware that this is a right that is not only protected by the international and local laws, but also respected and considered as sacred.
Whether countries of the world ratify this article and include it in their constitutions or not is not the issue. The issue is to have it applied, and not only applied but also implemented such that their societies will understand, respect it and enhance it in their everyday dealings among their individuals. The article only sets the guidelines of the state’s responsibility in ratifying the religious rights of the individual but it does not tell how the mechanism of application is going to be.
Case Study: Lebanon
Lebanon is praised as a country that recognizes all kinds of religions and that tolerates religious differences whereby every individual has the right to follow the religion he wants without any persecution from the state.
However, in this respect, Lebanon has two violations of Article 18. The first is towards individuals who worship Satan and the second against those who do not believe in God. In 1995, the Lebanese security forces cracked down on a number of teenagers from the American Community College and from International College and had them imprisoned because they worshipped Satin instead of God. Worshipping Satan is perhaps immoral, but whether one worships Satan or not is a choice that the individual should freely enjoy without persecution or harassment from the state. As a result of persecution, those who worship Satan are now forming secret cults away from the eyes of government.
On the other hand, according to the Lebanese laws, everyone must have a religion. A person cannot be an atheist. Even the members of the Communist Party which does not believe in the existence of God are forced to have religion forced on them. This is a violation of the Article 18 of human rights because it is not recognizing the right of the individual not to believe in God, and thus, it is imposing the belief on God onto this person.
I believe in God and I worship him, but I will still be worried if other people are not allowed to worship what they want or to be atheists. I worry if someone cannot enjoy freedom to worship because one day, it might just be my turn, and in that case I will not be able to tolerate it.