Skip to main content


Log in

Is There a Human Right to Freedom of Religion?

  • Published:
Human Rights Review Aims and scope Submit manuscript


A human right to freedom of religion is not equivalent to a right to tolerance. Human rights and tolerance-rules serve for different purposes and are based on different justifications. Tolerance-rules serve to protect a peaceful living together with strangers who share no common values. Human rights serve to protect every individual’s personhood. Religion can only be a matter of human rights, if and so far as it is a condition of development and maintenance of personhood. Discussion about a human right to freedom of religion makes sense only if we can identify a particular scope of protection which concerns only religion and if the freedom of religion is not embraced by wider-framed freedoms. The freedom of religious thoughts and the freedom of religious speech are embraced by the general human rights to freedom of thoughts and freedom of speech. Here, there is no need for a special human right to freedom of religion. The right not to be forced to act contrary to religiously founded moral rules is embraced by the general human right to freedom of conscience. And again, there is no need for a special human right. The target of religious practices in a narrower sense (rites) is to become flexible and porous and not to resist the threats of the sacral in order to avoid the destruction of personhood. Therefore, we have to recognize a human right to freedom of religious rites. It protects only the actions of accommodation to the overwhelming power of the sacral. It does not protect, however, any action with which it is intended to rule the world or to rule over others, to organize certain practical challenges, or to discover or to maintain scientific theories or technical means.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. The Special Workshop Interculturalism vs Multiculturalism as a way of justifying human rights, headed by Akihiko Morita, Amos Nascimento, and the author.

  2. For the distinction between inter- and multicultural approach cf. Taylor 2012, 418. The article discusses the topic from a European perspective and in the context of particular problems in continental Europe.

  3. This expression is coined by Max Weber and often used by Jürgen Habermas—cf. Kaesler 2009

  4. For more details cf. Tiedemann 2012

  5. About different meanings of tolerance cf. Forst 2003, 42

  6. Cf. preamble of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “Recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person.”

  7. Be aware of the difference between personhood and personality! Personhood is an ability. Personality is the result of a certain use of that ability.

  8. Article 1 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

  9. European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), jud. of July 13, 2012–16354/06—[Raëlien Suisse v. Switzerland], § 48.

  10. The ECtHR (supra) has concluded that it is suffice to examine the prohibition of a public poster campaign with religious content only under the freedom of expression. It is not required to examine separately the complaint under the aspect of freedom of religion (see § 79–80).

  11. Only religious hate speeches and similar forms of religious ideas according to which the foundations of human rights are questioned or denied cannot be integrated.

  12. Expressing thoughts is of course also a kind of acting. In the following chapters, I deal with kinds of acting beyond the pure expression of thoughts.

  13. ECtHR jud. of July 7, 2011–23459/03 – [Bayatyan v. Armenia], § 110 (regarding objection to military service)

  14. Talking about a “discovery” is not really appropriate. In fact, the studies on religion did not discover the dual world view by exploration of different religions in the world. A more appropriate description is that scholars of religious studies define the subject of their studies (“religion”) as the dual world approach. By definition: Where people share a dual world view there is religion. So, the concept of dual world view defines the concept of religion that is subject of religious studies. The discovery is that this dual world view approach is wide spread among almost any cultures in the world—see Hock 2008, 20.

  15. “My Wife and my Mother-in-Law” by William Ely Hill (1915), published first in “Puck”, issue of November 6, 1915.

  16. The German title of Eliade (1958) is “Das Heilige und das Profane.”

  17. Lao-Tzu: Tao Te Ching 76, 181.

  18. Cf. for more details: Tiedemann 2012, p. 83.

  19. “As a religious problem, the problem of suffering is, paradoxically, not how to avoid suffering but how to suffer, how to make a physical pain, personal loss, worldly defeat, or the helpless contemplation of others’ agony something bearable, supportable—something, as we say, sufferable” (Geertz 1987, p. 218).


  • Agamben G (2002) Homo Sacer. Die souveräne Macht und das nackte Leben. Frankfurt, Suhrkamp

    Google Scholar 

  • Durkheim É (2001) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Oxford, Oxford University Press [1912]

    Google Scholar 

  • Eliade M (1987) The Sacred and the Profane. The Nature of Religion. Orlando

    Google Scholar 

  • Fichte JG (1796) Grundlage des Naturrechts nach Principien der Wissenschaftslehre. Jena, Gabler

  • Fischer G, Riedesser P (2009) Lehrbuch der Psychotraumatologie, München/Basel: Reinhardt (4th ed)

  • Forst R (2003) Toleranz im Konflikt. Geschichte, Gehalt und Gegenwart eines umstrittenen Begriffs. Frankfurt, Suhrkamp

    Google Scholar 

  • Geertz C (1987) Religion as a Cultural System. In: Seth D. Kunin (ed): Theories of Religion. A Reader. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press 1987

  • Heidegger M (1986) Sein und Zeit. Tübingen, Niemeyer (16th ed)

    Google Scholar 

  • Hock K (2008) Einführung in die Religionswissenschaft. Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft (3rd ed)

    Google Scholar 

  • James W (2008) Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature. Rockville, Manor

  • Kaesler D (2009): Religiös unmusikalisch. Bemerkungen zum Verhältnis von Jürgen Habermas zu Max Weber., (Nr. 6 July 2009)

  • Kant I (1786) Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten. Riga, Hartknoch (2nd ed)

  • Kermani N (2005) Der Schrecken Gottes. Attar, Hiob und die metaphysische Revolte, München, Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag

    Google Scholar 

  • Lübbe H (2004) Religion nach der Aufklärung. München, Finke (3rd ed),

    Google Scholar 

  • Luhmann N (1982) Funktion der Religion. Frankfurt, Suhrkamp

    Google Scholar 

  • Nishitani K (2001) Was ist Religion. Frankfurt, Insel

    Google Scholar 

  • Otto R (2004) Das Heilige. Über das Irrationale in der Idee des Göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen. München, C.H. Beck

    Google Scholar 

  • Perren-Klingler G (1995) Trauma. Vom Schrecken des Einzelnen zu den Ressourcen der Gruppe. Bern, Haupt

    Google Scholar 

  • Quante M (2007) Person. Berlin/New York, de Gruyter

  • Riesebrodt M (2007) Cultus und Heilsversprechen. Eine Theorie der Religionen, München, C.H.Beck

    Google Scholar 

  • Schleiermacher F (2007) Über die Religion. Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern. Stuttgart, Reclam [1799]

    Google Scholar 

  • Spaemann R (2006) Persons. The Difference between ‘Someone‘ and ‘Something‘. Oxford, Oxford University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Spencer H (2001) The Proper Sphere of Government – Letter VII [1843]. In: Herbert Spencer, Political Writings (ed. by John Offer), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2nd ed)

  • Taylor Ch (2012) Interculturalism or Multiculturalism. In: Philosophy and Social Criticism, 38, No.4–5 (May/June, 2012)

  • Tiedemann P (2012) Religionsfreiheit – Menschenrecht oder Toleranzgebot? Was Religion ist und warum sie rechtlichen Schutz verdient. Berlin/Heidelberg, Springer

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Tiedemann P (2013a) Human Dignity as an Absolute Value. In: Brugger, Kirste (ed.): Human Dignity as a Foundation of Law. .ARSP-B 137, Baden-Baden, Nomos 2013, pp. 25

  • Tiedemann P (2013b) The Relation between Human Dignity and Human Rights In: Brugger, Kirste (ed.): Human Dignity as a Foundation of Law. ARSP-B 137, Baden-Baden, Nomos 2013, pp 193

  • Tiedemann P (2013c): Menschenwürde als Rechtsbegriff. Eine philosophische Klärung. Berlin, Berliner Wissenschaftsverlag (3rd ed)

    Google Scholar 

  • Tugendhat E (2003) Egozentrizität und Mystik. Eine anthropologische Studie. München, C.H. Beck

    Google Scholar 

  • von Manz HG (2014) Ist der Begriff der Menschenwürde für die gegenwärtige bioethische Diskussion noch tauglich? Ein Plädoyer aus transzendentalphilosophischer Sicht. In: Götz, Schwenzer, Seelmann, Taupitz (ed): Familie – Recht – Ethik. Festschrift für Gerd Brudermüller zum 65. Geburtstag. Munich, Beck

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul Tiedemann.

Additional information

This article is based on a talk delivered at the 26th World Congress of the International Association of Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy in Belo Horizonte (Brazil), July 21, 2013.

The author is a judge at the Administrative Court Frankfurt am Main, honorary professor at Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, and adjunct Professor at Özyeğin-University Istanbul. The author thanks Prof James E. Hickey PhD, Hofstra University, Hempstead NY for the review of the text in terms of grammatical, stylistic, and orthographic mistakes. All remaining errors are his sole responsibility.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tiedemann, P. Is There a Human Right to Freedom of Religion?. Hum Rights Rev 16, 83–98 (2015).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: