Separation of Religious Rule from the State and Guarantee of Rights of Religious Freedom in the Middle East sign now


The Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights is an umbrella coalition representing various organizations from the following communities: Arabic Speaking Christians, Armenian, Assyrian, Buddhist, Copt, Hindu, Humanist Muslim, Ibo, Maronite, Nubian, Southern Filipino, Slavic-Christian, Southern Sudanese, Syriac, West African, secular intellectuals and women's groups.

The legacy of Western Civilization to the world is liberal democracy and the enshrinement of individual rights. The right of all individuals to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief is fundamental to achieving true democracy. This right is articulated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The United States and Europe must make advancement of democracies the cornerstone policy in the Middle East. The success of this policy is dependent not only upon the promotion of free elections, but also the separation of religion from the state. Guarantee of the right of religious freedom is determinative to democratic progress, constitutional development or reformulation. The separations of religion from state and religious freedom for all individuals are preconditions for true democracy in the Middle East.

This may not preclude the participation of religious parties in these emerging Middle East democracies. However, there must be institutional limitations upon them to prevent their religious ideology from being imposed on the laws and constitutional institutions to the exclusion of others in society. This may not limit the religious character of the society from being recognized in the constitution, but it can not imply or become an establishing clause for religious rule. Confessional statements do not need to be institutionalized in constitutional law. The authority to govern and the rules by which that government function arise from the people irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, race or gender.

In the face of growing concern about the exclusion of religious or ethnic minorities and women in the Middle East from full citizenship, we, the undersigned, respectfully urge the adoption of the following measures:

Establish the separation of the rule of religion from the state as a pre-condition and measurement for the recognition of true democratic reform in the Middle East. Acceptance of anything short of this principle in US and EU diplomatic and assistance strategies will constitute a failure in democratic progress.

Stop identifying Middle Eastern countries as democracies if they institute constitutions that are structurally inclusive, containing language that recognizes freedoms and universal human rights, but then add exclusive provisions that limit freedoms based on other concerns such as, security, ideology, or religion. The presidents of the United States and the European Parliament should require progress to remove limitations on the free exercise of liberal institutions as a pre-condition for future financial assistance.

Establish independent commissions to review the status of democratic development in the Middle East and to report on an annual basis on efforts to separate religious rule from state, including the following issues:

 Religious rights and freedom: Do members of minority faiths have the right to practice their faith freely? Do they have the right to proselytize? Do members of the majority faith have the right to choose another faith according to individual conscience? Do they have the right to leave the religion of their birth?

 Equality under law: What is the status, both in law and in practice, of these groups, and of individuals belonging to these groups? Do the laws in these nations discriminate against religious minorities? Do members of these groups have the same rights to assemble, speak, publish, and associate as those in the majority? Can members of these classes be elected to governmental and representative bodies? Can they form political parties? Is there a government policy of discriminating against the hiring of members of these classes? Does the government allow or encourage radical anti-minority organizations to abuse, threaten or otherwise oppress minority populations? Do the agencies that enforce the laws represent all groups in society?

 Cultural equality: Are the rights and cultures of national, religious, and ethnic minorities respected?

 Teaching of hatred and contempt: Is religious tolerance taught and promoted in the educational system by the government and in the general culture? Do state-run media outlets promote tolerance and religious and cultural diversity in their programming?

The Center for Democracy and Governance Office of the U.S. State Department has identified five key elements of democracies for purposes of assessing the funding of its democracy and governance (DG) programming worldwide, consensus, rule of law, competition, inclusion, and good governance. Add a sixth, institutional guarantee of religious freedom for all individuals.

We implore the United States Congress and the European Parliament to make greater financial commitments to create and support indigenous liberal institutions that promote individual rights and freedoms in Middle Eastern countries. Free elections are a consequence of the democratic environment produced by the establishment and exercise of free liberal institutions in society.

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Phyllis LiBy:
Technology and the InternetIn:
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The Presidents of the United States and the European Parliament:

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