As we get ready to celebrate the treaty banning nuclear weapons becoming law in over 50 countries (with hopefully many more to soon be added), another effort to create a global treaty is getting started. This one would ban the political use of religion. Or rather, it would ban the malevolent political use of religion. To be specific, here is part of the draft text (which I imagine may evolve a bit as the process develops):
Equality in Respect and Dignity
Each State Party undertakes to ban all uses of religion that:
a) Undermine equal respect and dignity for all people under the jurisdiction of the State.
b) Prevent certain individuals or groups of people from any legal activities.
c) Put social pressures on any individual or groups of people on religious grounds.
d) Force individuals or groups of people to do anything not required legally from all people under the jurisdiction of the State.
Discrimination in Rights
Each State Party undertakes to ban all religious discrimination that:
a) Excludes individuals or groups of people from holding any positions in the public and private sector.
b) Deprives individuals or groups of people of any legal rights.
c) Prevents individuals or groups of people from having equal access to judicial and administrative procedures.
d) Excludes individuals or groups of people from privileges or financial supports or social securities.
e) Restricts any legitimate economic or business activities on religious grounds.
f) Prevents individuals or groups of people from entering any public places, online communities and virtual spaces or taking part in any public activities.
g) Rejects any legal testimonies or contributions of individuals or groups of people.
Discrimination in Duties
Each State Party undertakes to prohibit all religious discrimination that:
a) Imposes additional taxes and fees on certain individuals or groups of people.
b) Enforces any services or duties on individuals or groups of people based on their beliefs.
c) Imposes any additional requirements on individuals or groups of people based on their beliefs.
Each State Party undertakes to prohibit all exclusions in public political parties, movements and any membership activities based on the religious orientations of individuals and groups of people.
Freedom of Belief and Practice
Each State Party undertakes to prohibit all:
a) Restrictions to freedom of belief.
b) Restrictions to practice any religion or belief by individuals or groups of people.
c) Religious practices that violate the rights of other individuals or groups of people.
d) Forced conversion.
e) Harmful religious practices enforced on individuals, genders or groups of people.
This amounts to a declaration of equality before the law. It would seem to already exist in Articles 2, 16, and 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Articles 2, 4, 18, 24, 26, and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. But, those existing obligations are routinely violated, just as, for example, the existing Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons is routinely violated by the failure of the nuclear-armed governments to pursue disarmament (and arguably by the United States keeping nukes in five “non-nuclear” countries). Redundantly or not, we have treaties banning discrimination on the basis of race, and gender. But when it comes to religion, we only have, thus far, failed attempts to put detailed anti-discrimination legislation on the international books.
In one view of a failed effort in the 1960s, the Soviet Union was the chief opponent, blocking a ban on discriminating against religion because the USSR wanted to discriminate against religion. But the Soviet Union has been gone for decades. In another view, there was widespread disagreement around the world, including debates between Israel and Arab states, and between India and Pakistan. There were arcane discussions of which discrimination was religion-based and which politically based. But the basic problem seems to have been numerous governments wishing to continue to discriminate against various groups of people.
That some governments will be the last to join is hardly reason not to create a treaty articulating fundamental human rights. That the nuclear-armed nations will be the last to ratify or comply with a ban on nuclear weapons is hardly reason not to make it the law of most of the earth’s land.
I suspect the biggest hurdle in gaining widespread enthusiasm for this new idea will simply be that it has the words “religion” and “ban” in the title, even though it actually bans the banning of religion.
There’s also the problem of the preamble, the part of the treaty that comes before Article 1. It lacks any preemptive acknowledgement that religion ever does anything good or useful. There’s no logical reason that it should include that, except that it might get more people to read past the first few sentences.
The preamble also states: “Recognising that the abuse of religion to serve political agendas is a major cause of many of the most brutal local, regional and international conflicts, . . . “
This is debatable. To the extent that cynical powerful officials — even those who use religion and religious bigotry in their propaganda — cause wars, and to the extent that they are heavily motivated by greed, profit, electoral politics, and lust for power, it’s possible that religion is more of a minor, than a major, cause of wars. But even that statement, which I think is indisputably true, won’t make it past people who (admittedly off-topic) demand some sort of acknowledgment that sometimes people have done good things in the name of religions.
Of course, the U.S. government is notoriously averse to global treaties on any topic, including those on discrimination against women, discrimination against migrant workers, the conventions on the rights of the child, on the protection of victims of enforced disappearance, on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, not to mention the International Criminal Court, and bans on land mines and cluster bombs, etc. But the rest of the world ought to be able to lead on this one, as on all of those others. And the rogue countries will be brought up to speed eventually.