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- This article is about intolerance by or between religious communities or by communities of specific practices.
- For intolerance of religion itself, see Antireligion, Irreligion, and State atheism.
Religious intolerance is intolerance against another's religious beliefs or practices or lack thereof.
The mere statement on the part of a religion that its own beliefs and practices are correct and any contrary beliefs are incorrect does not in itself constitute intolerance (i.e., ideological intolerance).
Religious intolerance, rather, is when a group (e.g., a society, religious group, non-religious group) specifically refuses to tolerate practices, persons or beliefs on religious grounds.
According to the 19th century British historian Arnold Toynbee, for a religious establishment to persecute another religion for being "wrong" ironically puts the persecuting religion in the wrong, undermining its own legitimacy.
Contemporary attitude and practice
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The constitutions of some countries contain provisions expressly forbidding the state from engaging in certain acts of religious intolerance or preference within its own borders, examples of such include The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Article 4 of the Basic Law of Germany, Article 44.2.1 of the Constitution of The Republic of Ireland, Article 40 of the Estonian Constitution, Article 24 of the Constitution of Turkey, Article 36 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, and Article 3 Section 5 of the Constitution of the Philippines.
Other states, whilst not containing constitutional provisions directly related to religion, nonetheless contain provisions forbidding discrimination on religious grounds (see, for example, Article 1 of the French Constitution, article 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and article 40 of the Constitution of Egypt). These constitutional provisions do not necessarily guarantee that all elements of the state remain free from religious intolerance at all times, and practice can vary widely from country to country.
Other countries, meanwhile, may allow for religious preference, for instance through the establishment of one or more state religions, but not for religious intolerance. Finland, for example, has the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and Finnish Orthodox Church as its official state religions, yet upholds the right of free expression of religion in article 11 of its constitution.
Some countries retain laws forbidding defamation of religious belief. Some retain laws forbidding all forms of blasphemy (e.g., Germany where, in 2006, Manfred van H. was convicted of blasphemy against Islam). This is seen by some as official endorsement of religious intolerance, amounting to the criminalization of religious views. The connection between intolerance and blasphemy laws is closest when the laws apply to only one religion. In Pakistan blasphemy directed against either the tenets of the Qur'an or the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by either life imprisonment or death. Apostasy, the rejection of one's old religion, is also criminalized in a number of countries, notably Afghanistan with Abdul Rahman being the first to face the death penalty for converting to Christianity.
The United Nations upholds the right to free expression of religious belief in articles and 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights while article 2 forbids discrimination on the basis of religion. Article 18 also allows for the freedom to change religion. The Declaration is not legally binding, however the United States chose in 1998 to pass the International Religious Freedom Act, creating the Commission on International Religious Freedom, and mandating that the United States government take action against any country found to violate the religious freedoms outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The European Convention on Human Rights, which is legally binding on all European Union states (following the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998 in the United Kingdom), makes restricting the rights of an individual to practice or change their religion illegal in article 9, and discrimination on the basis of religion illegal in article 14.
In its 2000 annual report on international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department cited China, Myanmar, Iran, Iraq and Sudan for persecuting people for their religious faith and practices. The report, which covers July 1999 through June 2000, details U.S. policy toward countries where religious freedom is violated in the view of the U.S. State Department.
The advocacy group Freedom House produced a report entitled "Religious Freedom in the World" in 2000 which ranked countries according to their religious freedom. The countries receiving a score of 7, indicating those where religious freedom was least respected, were Turkmenistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Myanmar and North Korea. China was given a score of 6 overall, however Tibet was listed separately in the 7 category. Those countries receiving a score of 1, indicating the highest level of religious freedom, were Estonia, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and the United States.
Within those countries that openly advocate religious tolerance there remain debates as to the limits of tolerance. Some individuals and religious groups, for example, retain beliefs or practices which involve acts contrary to established law, such as the use of cannabis by members of the Rastafari movement, the religious use of eagle feathers by non-Native Americans (contrary to the eagle feather law, 50 CFR 22), or the practice of polygamy amongst the LDS Church in the 19th century.
The precise definition of "religion", and to which groups it applies, can also cause controversy, for example the case of Scientologists who have all rights of religious freedom in the U.S. but complain that the highest court decided not to grant the status of a Non-profit organization in several U.S. states. Attempts to legislate against acts of religious intolerance amongst citizens frequently come up against issues regarding the freedom of speech; whilst in France being convicted of incitement to religious hatred can carry a maximum of 18 months in prison. An attempt to pass a similar law by Tony Blair's Labour government in the United Kingdom had to be dropped in April, 2006 after criticism that it restricted free speech. In Victoria, Australia the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 makes illegal "conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons" on the grounds of religious belief.
- Specific religions
- Toynbee, Arnold (1947). "Failure of Self-Determination". In Dorothea Grace Somervell. A Study of History: Abridgment of Volumes I - VI. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 300. ISBN 0-19-505081-9.
- "Estonia - Constitution", ICL Document 28 June 1992, retrieved 25 May 2007.
- 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, CorpusJuris, retrieved 24 September 2009
- "International Religious Freedom Act of 1998", 27 January 1998, retrieved 25 May 2007.
- "United States Commission on International Freedom of Religion", Press Releases 2000, retrieved 25 May 2007.
- "Official Declaration", Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 October 1890, retrieved 25 May 2007.
- Garth Blake, "Promoting Religious Tolerance in a Multifaith Society: Religious Vilification Legislation in Australia and the UK." The Australian Law Journal, 81 (2007): 386-405.
- Chopra, R.M., "A Study of Religions", 2015, Anuradha Prakashan, New Delhi, ISBN 978-93-82339-94-6
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- "New Effort to Ban Religious Hate", BBC News, 11 June 2005 retrieved 25 May 2007