"Religion and Freedom of Expression" was the theme of the Conscience and Liberty Conference 2023, organized by the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (AIDLR)―a non-governmental organization (NGO) with headquarters in Bern, Switzerland, and official representation in Brussels, Belgium―and hosted by the prestigious Portuguese institution Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.
Mário Brito, president of the AIDLR, said in an interview for Portuguese public television (watch interview), "All those who came here did so with the aim of creating a more just society, where people can get along, with trust. We came to think [of] how we can make the best use of religion, also [making] room for difference, with respect. We want everyone to be able to express themselves, to say what they think, to influence in a positive way, and we work for this. There are those who try to fight to prevent this from happening, and we cannot remain silent. We add our voice to those of people of good will, in a clear way, contributing to the good of society, which is part of preaching the gospel.”
The conference, held February 7–8, 2023, in Lisbon, Portugal, brought together renowned experts and thinkers in the area of freedom of conscience and worship and religion. These great minds delved into the topic from the perspectives of law, history, theology, and culture, along with presenting practical cases where these two freedoms conflicted or were in danger.
"The theme of this conference was chosen as a response to a deep concern about the current tension between the freedoms of religion and expression. There is a history of study and legislation in relation to the protection of religious speech, about religion, and in relation to religion. But one notes a growing tension in relation to speech from religion on matters of society. There is a tendency to silence the voice of those with faith. It is necessary to reflect and try to help resolve this tension, with a view to maintaining respect for both aspects of freedom," explained Dr. Paulo Macedo (watch interview), secretary general of AIDLR, in relation to the choice of theme.
The conference was attended by Nazila Ghanea, United Nations special rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief (FoRB—watch interview), and Ibrahim Salama, chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ghanea delivered an outstanding speech on the role of the special rapporteur, the priorities of her mandate, and an overview of the state of religious freedom today. Salama (watch interview), accompanied by Dr. Michael Wiener, from Geneva, gave an in-depth presentation on the role of education in the relationship between faith and human rights through the UN's #Faith4Rights program.
In addition to official representations, the conference had a total of around 80 speakers and guest participants, including academics, clergy and religious community leaders, journalists, and students. Among them were the secretaries-general of the national AIDLR chapters from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, and Portugal (the latter country supporting the organization). The involvement, growth, and expansion of the AIDLR national section network is a priority for this mandate of the AIDLR Board of Trustees.
"This conference has challenged national sections to continue to work and deepen their efforts in bringing these and other issues related to religious freedom to their countries. It is important that this movement is taken to the people, closer to those who suffer and experience the problems and can help change the situations for the better, through education, dialogue, and understanding," expressed Adama Dieng, chair of the Honorary Committee of AIDLR, at the closing ceremony.
More About AIDLR
The International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty is a non-governmental (UN status granted in 1978) and non-political organization. It was founded in 1946 in Paris, France, by the Franco-Swiss physician Jean Nussbaum, to defend the religious freedom of all people throughout the world. Since 1985, it has had consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in New York, USA, and Geneva, Switzerland, and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. Since 1966, its headquarters have been in Bern. On November 8, 2021, Dr. Macedo was appointed by the General Assembly of AIDLR as secretary general.
The original version of this story was posted by the Inter-European Division website.