The Holy See
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Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Point 46 : Respect for Freedom of Expression and Respect
for Sacred Beliefs and Values and Religious and Cultural Symbols 


Mister Chairman,

If it is a public and political place where a serious and deep word can be emitted and heard, this is well here, in UNESCO. We just had a seizing proof during the international crisis provoked by the Mahomet caricatures. Actually the communiqué by the Members State Ambassadors of the Islamic Conference Organization accredited with the UNESCO has affirmed its attachment to the principles of freedom of expression in reliability to the International United Nations Charter of Human Rights. However this freedom goes together with ensued responsibility, for, freedom of expression erected in fundamental right is limited. Every person must have protection against any kind of discrimination based on race, ethnic group, religion or national belonging. Freedom of expression point toward self-realization of a person and the defence of his dignity. Hence there is a reasonable limit to this right of expression. Article 19 of the International Treaty on civil rights and politics expresses it very clearly. Implementation of freedom of expression involves specific duties and specific responsibilities. “Consequently it can be submitted to particular restrictions that must be somehow clearly fixed by the law and are necessary for the respect of rights and reputation of others, for the safeguard of national security, public order, public health or morality”. In the communiqué, the Ambassadors, have avowed their attachment to civilizations peace work and respect of religious phenomenon.

Indeed, where is nowadays a public and political place capable of an acute debate around a fundamental query that is religious faith but UNESCO! Religious faith structures the existence of billions of people, although it remains unknown for those who do not share it. Hence I would like to go back to a crucial matter related to what we have been through during the caricatures crisis that is to say the respect of human dignity. As underlined by the Council Vatican II, and in particular through “Dignitatis humanae” Declaration (7th December 1965) as well as Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and the Holy Father Benedict’s XVI mentioned, roots of freedom resides in singular dignity of human being (4th December 2005).

Our work’s purpose is to put into practice all our assets to assure recognition, existence, promotion and respect of this dignity. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize the sacred disposition of this dignity. During the caricatures crisis, often freedom has been invoked and still it should not be considered as sacred alone thus putting aside human dignity. Talking about what it seems fair reactions made by the Catholic Church during the said crisis, some critics dare talk about “interest coalition” between religion. It is not about interest but merely defence of dignity and freedom of the person, in so far as expression and belief. This essential aspect of defence respect and promotion of human dignity is confronted to the question of freedom and justice. When freedom of expression is not limited by a norm, then freedom without justice do not mean anything else than the expression of personal interests. As justice without freedom is only a formal justice, that of totalitarian regime and dictatorship of any kind. Is it then essential to work in favour of that freedom and justice in order to guaranty them to all. Actually a man not free, a man cut from justice is the same then a man mutilated and reduced to the biological reality of his body. Here again a whole dimension of his being, that must be called spiritual is denied.

To conclude allow me to make reference to one of our most usual subject matter here in UNESCO, education. Until now I have only made reference to man. I would now like to refer to the person, meaning here the integral man, the man taken into all his being: psychical, somatical, cultural, moral, political and religious. In order to respect, defend and promote human dignity the following thesis must simply be accepted : either education takes into consideration human in all its dimensions, or it fails purely and simply to reach its aim. “Cheap” education does not exist. If we only want to educate elector card owners, if we only want to educate good soft ware or hard ware engineers we would fail to spot our aim. Education purpose is not to shape citizens and only citizens. It is not to shape cultured men and only cultured men. It is to shape persons. Undoubtedly this is a higher and much more difficult purpose to reach.

Thank you for your attention.