WORLD: Strong and deep nexus between human dignity and religious freedom

By  Jan Figel, Former EU Commissioner and FoRB Special Envoy


HRWF (10.12.2023) – Today, the agenda of human rights is hijacked by various groups representing ideologies, violent extremism or ethical relativism. We also tend to forget or neglect our human duties towards the other and towards society.


Peace is a fruit of justice. The core of justice is based on the respect of fundamental human rights and the foundational principle of human rights is dignity. In order to make our era more humane, we must return to the original meaning of key documents and definitions on this subject.


  1. There is a strong and deep nexus between human dignity of all andfreedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all.  

Following are three basic sources that articulate the priority of human dignity – two secular documents, and a faith document:


a) Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)Article 1:


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Art. 1 is a leading article; Art. 18 (on freedom of thought, conscience and religion) is a central one. Both speak about triune dimension of human person: rationality, morality, religiosity (spirituality). 

Dignity appears five times in the UDHR. Dignity as a term is today recognized and included in more than 160 of the world’s constitutions.


b) The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights (2000) 

It recognizes dignity as the first founding value of the Union and respects and protects dignity in the Article 1 of Chapter 1. 

c) Vatican II Council Declarationon Religious FreedomDignitatis Humanae (1965):

The Council… declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person. 


  1. Respect of human dignity is a meeting point for religious and secular humanists.


The convergence of different traditions and concepts leads from a common ground to a common good. The Judeo-Christian tradition states that mankind is created in the likeness and image of God. Karamah (Arabic) in Islam has Quranic roots when angels are asked to bow in front of Adam. 


Dignity is the highest worthiness that each person possesses and therefore transcends the whole material world. Each human being is a PERSON: a unique being with intellectual, spiritual and material dimensions. Only a person can have rights and duties. A person is always a SUBJECT with reason, conscience and freedom. 


  1. Rights cannot work without duties. 


We should promote awareness and respect of human duties. A culture of human dignity brings together two ancient ethical rules: 


The Silver Rule: „Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.“ This is a basis of justice, reciprocity, tolerance, equal treatment.

The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a source of compassion, acceptance, solidarity, charity and love.


The dignity of each person represents a balance and interdependence of rights and duties, freedom and responsibility. Freedom without responsibility cannot survive. My dignity is a call for my duties – as father, husband, neighbor, citizen.


  1. Equal citizenship as a fruit of equal dignity. 


Equal dignity as a moral principle has a socio-political implication: equal, fair, inclusive, dignified citizenship 


In dignity we are ALL EQUAL. In identity we are ALL DIFFERENT (people of the past, presence, future). This is not a problem; this is the principle of creativity (in opposition to copying or cloning).


  1. Dignity is the best theme for learning how to live together, not merely to exist together.


We are invited to live in a spirit of brotherhood. Reason and faith, science and religion in quest for truth, working for common good of people, can drive our civilization forward and upward. Dignity is more than a right; it is a reality from which rights are derived. Dignity is a daily learning process through which we discover what it means to be human in every situation. It is the best permanent lesson on rights, responsibilities and reciprocity.

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