Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion as two points of concern in Europe. The complex interaction between these two freedoms is becoming more apparent in our diverse society, where the cultural norms are being challenged by globalization. Europe is, thus, standing at a crossroads, where on one hand, it wants to maintain a well-functioning society, while also integrating diverse groups that reside here in a congruent way.
Freedom of religion or belief is a central commitment in the OSCE area, in direct relation to the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination, to raising awareness of religious diversity. In the present, individuals, religious or beliefs communities face a range of issues that continue to be challenged by intolerance and discrimination towards their beliefs, with profound roots in the lack of education at a social level.
At the core of the human rights dimension lies the commitment to combating all forms of intolerance and discrimination, including hate crime, and to promote mutual respect and understanding.
On the other hand, freedom of expression, in its turn, is a fundamental right protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, its exercise while presuming to respect certain conditions. Freedom of expression is seen as a prime necessity in a democratic society, but it is imposed on it a series of restrictions, restrictions that are in interdependence with the other values protected by treaties concluded at the level of human rights and freedoms.
Among the restrictions imposed on the right to free expression is the one intended to protect human dignity, respect for the reputation and the rights of others, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Where is the limit to which freedom of expression can be manifested without prejudice to an individual's freedom of opinion, freedom of opinion analyzed in close connection with freedom of thought, conscience and religion? Freedom of opinion ensures that everyone is free to form their own beliefs about the world in which they live, how social life unfolds, and the protection of this, even minority, opinion is an essential component of pluralism and tolerance for any democratic society.
What one should understand is that freedom of expression is not an absolute right, but is regulated by law and through responsibility. One may freely express one's self, but in doing so, one should not commit an abuse and damage the rights or reputation of others by making false and misleading statements. Unfortunately, this recommendation is largely ignored, and, thus, often not respected across all levels, whether in governmental institutions, mass media, or on the individual level. The result is that this perceived total freedom of expression does indeed have the capacity to harm.
We consider the need to open the dialogue between various members of society on the topic of Freedom of Expression with the hope of increasing our understanding for one another and to find a way to embrace various beliefs in the increasingly globalized European context, while adhering to the shared moral code of conduct and rule of law.
We can ask ourselves, in the actual context:
1. What role can education play in raising awareness regarding how to maintain freedom of expression, while ensuring the respect of one another’s reputation and beliefs? How can authorities engage to combat hate crimes and other manifestations of intolerance and discrimination?
2. How can education help raise awareness with regards to the thin line between the Freedom of Religion and Belief and the Freedom of Expression or, better said, the abuse committed using the right to express oneself freely?
3. Do existing legislation, its implementation, educational policies, strategies, programmes provide sufficient safeguards for the protection of freedom of beliefs and choice of religious path towards the abuse and misleading conducted in the name of freedom of expression?
We invite you to this thought-provoking discussion, with speakers from:
-Human Rights without Frontiers
-Church of Scientology