What would be your first remarks after the appointment as AIDLR Secretary-General?
There are two key points I would like to emphasize during this coming term: gratitude and responsibility. First of all, gratitude for the foundational idea of defending and promoting religious liberty—born in the mind, heart and will of Dr. Jean Nussbaum, followed by all the presidents, secretary-generals, and members of the Honorary Committee along with other officers and associates of AIDLR—an idea embraced and supported by all those who have freely and selflessly joined us during the 75 years of our existence. I am grateful, all of us in the Association are grateful, and bow respectfully to his prestigious legacy. Secondly, I feel responsible for continuing to work for the defense and promotion of religious liberty, always keeping in mind both its core principles and the traditional and new challenges that affect them. This is a personal responsibility, of course, as representative and spokesperson of AIDLR, but it is also a high privilege, considering the profound and meaningful values this Association stands for. And so, with its being a privilege, I invite all our associates, partners and stakeholders to join us in fulfilling this determination of helping people to live freely and according to their conscience.
You mentioned “core principles” and “new challenges” in terms of religious liberty. Could you elaborate on each expression?
The core principles of religious liberty that AIDLR defends and promotes are the principles of freedom of conscience, belief, worship and religion, which are expressed on the right to have or not to have faith, the right to practice or not to practice worship, the rights to adopt, abandon, change, and share beliefs and religion. Also, the principle of separation between State and Religion and the equality of citizenship rights and non-discrimination regarding religious choices. Connected, sometimes closely and sometimes indifferently, to these fundamental principles are, namely, the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of education, and freedom of association and reunion. All those prime principles are based on our vision of the immanent and universal dignity of each human being, independently of birth, nationality, ethnicity, religious, gender or social status.
Many of these referred principles are challenged today by new realities and trends that not only affect them directly but also should raise our attention to a more sensitive future on those matters. Traditional challenges we are used to addressing relate to minority discrimination, religious persecution, violence using religious pretext, [etc.]… we need to follow through on our observations about the places and circumstances those regrettable situations take place and advocate for its victims. But, at the same time, we need to be aware and reflect on the questions raised by new themes in our society. For instance: Are the new global challenges being addressed following an agenda that puts human dignity and fundamental rights on their central place? How is the balance between freedom of speech and hate speech control being followed and pursued? Is there an impact of growing digitalization on the possibility of scanning or restraining elementary freedoms of religion, especially in expressing belief? Is religion being allocated to a mere private place in society and are the rights of living and sharing religion being affected by a trend of secular restrictions? These questions raised are not to overlap or overcome the traditional ones - they may be additional triggers to the traditional, that we should study, discuss and address, openly and confidently. In fact, in some cases, we relate to them more closely in our European societies than to the traditional ones.
And how does AIDLR Secretary-General propose to address those issues? AIDLR has a very stable and effective tradition of working through five main strategic pillars. The first pillar is to advocate for religious liberty principles, in general, and to give a voice to people and groups when we realize our action is needed and helpful. The second pillar is to represent our principles through our presence in international organizations related to Human Rights and to try to be heard in document production and policy making in our field. The third pillar is based on the network efforts we wish to develop even further, both on an external level, with our NGO key partners, and on an internal level, supporting our national and local chapters. The fourth pillar refers to the publication of our official magazine, Conscience & Liberty, and its edition in all its different languages, which we consider a key-point asset in our work, for the quality and timeliness of its topic. And the last pillar consists of the events, both national and international, that AIDLR promotes, that intend to be meeting points to forge relationships and facilitate discussions between academic, religious, political and civil society leaders for the greater goal of defending and promoting religious liberty.
In a sentence, how do you describe religious liberty? Religious liberty is a precious pearl of human dignity, produced and maintained with care and sacrifice, to which each one is entitled but many do not possess, and which we all have a duty to value and preserve.