Manifesto for Freedom of Conscience
Sunday 27 November 2011
Humankind was born free.
Nature has created neither titles, nor religions nor religious institutions, nor censorship or property.
Humankind has become itself when it came out of prehistory after a long struggle against the terrible ordeal of a planet which it did not know or understand.
Gradually freeing itself from restraints and fetters, including those fetters that Humankind has created for itself, Humankind has had to assert its rights for itself.
Human Rights are neither asserted nor wrested against some other alleged “rights” of unknown origin.
They exist because Humankind exists.
Human Rights are “self-evident” truths.
The first right, the first freedom is the right to think freely.
This first and fundamental liberty is called freedom of conscience.
Indeed, before the Churches, there was humankind.
Indeed, above the Churches, there is Humankind.
Gods, Churches, superstitions, dogmas are no more than human artefacts.
Still more conscience
“Light! More light!”
Beyond centuries, we believe in Goethe’s last words.
Freedom of conscience is the liberty of humankind to inquiry and self-inquiry.
Humankind is fallible and perfectible because it is endowed with reason and therefore criticism.
What Humankind has done, it can undo.
Successive generations of Human Beings cannot put themselves into fetters eternally.
Contrary to Churches, free and conscious Humankind has refused, is still refusing and will always refuse infallibility.
What is good for Popes is no good for Human beings.
Humankind is perfectible, which means that it can correct itself and improve itself; it does not consider Paradise as something out dated and guilty or as a mystical and inaccessible future but rather as an everyday effort, that freedom of conscience has made possible.
After Protagoras, we can say that “Man is the measure of everything”.
Human genius is unlimited. It is capable to divide the smallest cell in Universe, as well as to modify its own structure, to conquer planets, to work on the origin of the world and to think about its own future.
Alas and alack, it is capable to programme its own destruction.
The doom of humankind is the design of Humankind and, according to Mythology, Prometheus, the rebel, was right when he stole fire from those who owned it to give it to Men; He is a metaphoric figure of Humankind struggling for its emancipation.
While asserting freedom of conscience, which is synonymous with Human liberty, Humankind has always run counter to religious dogmas.
The Churches have condemned every step forward, whatever the manner, that Humankind has achieved and every time it has asserted its rights.
The list of martyrs and heroes of freedom of conscience is far longer that the brief reminder which is mentioned hereafter.
Socrates was condemned to drink hemlock because he wanted his students to think by themselves.
Peter Abelard, a philosopher at the Sorbonne, was maimed because he believed that his opinion was worth those of the “Fathers”.
As a scientist, Galileo was sentenced because he had taught the truths that were the results of his own research rather than errors in conformity with the Bible.
That was the same for Etienne Dolet, Giordano Bruno, Michel Servet., Vanino Vanini and many others.
When the “Magna Carta”, the first document in the Western World establishing rights, was published in England in 1215, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, was suspended by the Pope because he had supported the Charter.
The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France was condemned by the Pope.
Democratically elected to Westminster in 1880, Charles Bradlaugh had to wage a long campaign to vote in Parliament without having to take the oath of allegiance to the Anglican faith.
Francisco Ferrer i Guardia, a Spanish educationalist and free thinker, was executed in 1907 at the request of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Chevalier de la Barre, a free thinker and libertine, was executed on the order of the Roman Catholic Church and Max Sievers, the leader of the German Free Thought, was executed by the Nazis at Hamburg in 1943.
This is a long list…
It is a testimony of the unflagging struggle between dogmas and freedom of conscience.
Everyone can see that the Churches continue to suppress and oppress people of conscience. The Churches haven’t changed.
To take a few examples, in Pakistan, Dr Younus Shaikh was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2001, before he was able to find shelter in Europe after an international solidarity campaign. He had spent nearly three years in the death row.
In Nigeria, Leo Igwe, an activist, was repeatedly arrested and ill-treated by the police because he had stood up in defence of people accused of “witchcraft”. In January 2011, he was released after two days in custody as a result of an international campaign in his favour.
The Italian Judge Luigi Tosti has been persistently waging a struggle to be fully reinstated in his position after being dismissed because he had refused to administer justice in a courtroom ornamented with a crucifix.
On March 18, 2011, the « Grand chamber », an appeal jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, referred to by Berlusconi’s government, has ruled in favour of the Italian State which wants to continue to impose the presence of crucifixes in Italian state-school classrooms (this case is known as the “Lautsi Case”).
We could have taken up many more examples, such as the recent destruction of several paintings by a Catholic commando at Avignon in France because those works were deemed “blasphemous”.
Winning, defending or re-establishing freedom of conscience
Like any other right, freedom of conscience should be enshrined in law, whether Declarations, Constitutions, regulations or legal documents.
In some countries, those regulations do exist. This is the case of the First Amendment to the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”. (1791), the Law of Separation between the Churches and the State in France (1905): “The Republic does not recognise, nor salary nor subsidize any worship. As a consequence, from January 1st following the promulgation of this law, all expenditure concerning the exercise of religions will be suppressed form the budget of the State, the departments and the communes”, Article 3 of the Constitution of Mexico (1917) “neither purchase, nor possession or managing of real estate for the Church, no legal status for the Church”, Portugal and Revolutionary Russia in 1917, the Constitutional referendum in Bolivia (2009) ant the Interim Constitution of Nepal (2007), among others.
We ought to remind that those regulations are often roughly treated and defence or re-establishing is necessary as this is the case for example for France where all governments have violated the Law of Separation since the 1940 Vichy Regime.
That is why we greet all the struggles that are waged in favour of freedom of conscience, such as the recent abrogation of the offense of blasphemy in the United Kingdom. In March 2010 in Poland, Gosc Niedzielny, the magazine of the bishop see and the Archbishop of Katowice were condemned for having compared the feminist activist Alicja Tysiac to Nazi criminals. Others examples of gains are well-known.
We greet the renewed demand put forward by parliamentarians, elected by the people in the Republic of Ireland, “to end the special relationship between the Catholic Church and the state”, the legal battle currently taking place in Australia against the public financing of religious institutions and religious schools in the USA (“vouchers”), the tireless efforts in Quebec to put an end to public prayers in councils.
We greet the anticlerical demonstrations in Poland, in Italy; we greet the dozens of thousands of people marching through the streets of Beirut in Lebanon and claiming “Secularism is the Solution” in a country where the political system is a complicated mixture of power-sharing based on communal quotas; the thousands of demonstrators in Tunisia taking up again the slogan “Secularism = freedom and tolerance”, “For a secularist Tunisia”; the thousands of demonstrators in London marching during the visit of the Head of the Roman Catholic Church and claiming “Make the Pope Pay”; the secularist demonstrators in Spain….
Under every climate, in all the continents, the form is variable but the content is basically the same: the necessity of freedom of conscience!
We fight for the abrogation of all the Concordats, all the Wars of Religion and against any “Clash of Civilizations”.
Our traditions and our fights, including the motions and resolutions of the World Congress of the Free Thought in Rome in 1904, are the token and the promise of our commitments.
Following the tradition of the World Congress of Rome in 1904, those present or the representatives in the World Congress of Oslo on August 10, 2011, founding the International Association of the Free Thought – IAFT – Association Internationale de la Libre Pensée – AILP) decide to launch two campaign, namely the truth on the financing of Religions and justice for the victims of Religions.
Because we advocate freedom of conscience, which implies Separation of Religions and the State, we want to get right to the bottom of the financing of Religions, this “purple economy” which restrict the budgets of the States to the detriment of Health and Education, for the benefit of those who call themselves “spiritual”.
We demand justice for the victims of Religions.
Justice is not repentance.
Repentance is a religious behaviour that only involves the Churches, which consider themselves as being above human laws.
We demand justice, and that implies sanction, including legal, financial and moral sanction when the defendant is found guilty.
Justice for the victims of sexual abuse by the Churches, sexual abuse being an institution within the Institution!
Justice for the victims of discrimination enshrined in the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, ordering the Jews to wear a yellow patch, of the Inquisition against Jews, Muslims, or “heretics”!
Justice for the colonised and “evangelized” peoples who were deprived of their rights and dispossessed of their lands in Africa, Asia, Latin America and North America! To take up again the quotes by J. Kenyatta: “When the Whites came to Africa, we had the land and they had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes shut. When we opened our eyes, the Whites had the land and we had the Bible”.
We demand complete freedom for scientific research, in respect of everyone’s conscience.
We demand the right for women to control their own bodies.
We demand equal political and social rights for men and women.
We demand complete separation of education and religion. Families are free to teach what they think is good for their children but Education should be the mission of Public Education, exclusively.
We do not blame people for their opinions.
We blame public institutions to try to impose opinions.
We, those present or the representatives in the World Congress of the Free Thought at Oslo, facing the crucial issue of freedom of conscience, both through our own quest and the current situation, without taking the place of associations or organizations, whether national or international whatsoever they may be, assert that:
- Freedom of conscience is constitutive of democracy;
- Freedom of conscience is constitutive of liberation of Humankind.
We commit ourselves to:
- Defend this liberty everywhere and for all;
- Fraternally and solemnly express solidarity for those who are or could be persecuted for their opinions;
- Request all those who accept this Manifesto to join in this struggle.