10/25/2004, 00.00
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Religious freedom at the centre of Catholic Social Doctrine

Vatican City (AsiaNews) -- Religious freedom, according to the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church is the "source and synthesis" of human rights; it is the "right to live in the truth of one's own faith and in accordance with the transcendental dignity of the human person". The publication, released today at the Vatican, covers the full range of social doctrine, with particular emphasis on rights of the individual and of the family, beginning with the right to life and marriage.

Religious freedom is, in a way, the basis of all rights. The basic wording for this right is Vatican II's declaration on religious freedom, "Dignitatis humanae", according to which, as the Compendium recalls, religious freedom "has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person" and "is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.  Furthermore, it is "a right that regards not only individual persons, but also the various associations of people".

At the practical level, the Compendium affirms that "the effective recognition of the right to freedom of conscious and to religious freedom is one of the highest values and most serious duties of every society that truly wishes to ensure the good of the individual and of society itself" (no. 553). For this reason, even if "a particular religious community has special recognition by the state, because of its historical and cultural ties with a nation, such recognition must not in any way lead to civil or social discrimination against other religious groups". In the relation between religions and state, in fact, the principle of laicity" holds true, i.e. "the distinction between the political and religious spheres". Such a principle is "a value received and recognized by the Church" (no. 571). Consequent on this is "the respect of each religious confession by the state, which ensures the free exercise of devotional, spiritual, cultural, and charitable activities by communities of believers" (no. 572).

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Social Doctrine: a guide for Catholics in today's globalized world