.Starting from :

Religouis signs on the public sphere


Declaration

Active tolerance

 

Preface

It is with awareness of our shared social responsibility that we make this declaration. Strategically located and as host-city of the European and other international Institutions, Brussels – at the heart of Belgium – is actually one of Europe’s principal cities. The international Institutions are a powerful symbol of the meeting of peoples with a longstanding presence on the European continent. But there are also those who have arrived more recently. Their presence reminds us that a genuine meeting between cultures and religions is a precondition for building a culture of peace in our country.

Today Belgium stands at a crossroads. A traditional and relatively homogenous Belgian culture is faced with new challenges. In this context of a fast changing society, the Belgian Council of Religious Leaders wants to underline the importance of religion in society. In our country, members of different philosophical and confessional communities live peacefully together, and initiatives for interreligious dialogue and cooperation are multiplying. This provides us, as members of BCRL, with the opportunity to engage in dialogue, in order to enhance understanding and where possible to find areas of agreement.

 


Context

Religious plurality is a reality. Tolerance means respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of cultures, forms of expression and ways of being human in our society today. In exploring our own religious traditions and convictions, we as members of the Belgian Council of Religious Leaders are of the opinion that tolerance is a spiritual responsibility rooted in the sacred character of all life. True tolerance protects the dignity of every human person, stimulates love of neighbor and promotes the commandment to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

We acknowledge that religious people and institutions have not always honored this important principle and have even at times fostered intolerance. In order to contribute to building peace and social cohesion, religious people and institutions must also engage in self critical scrutiny, since the dangers of fundamentalism are present all our traditions. To do that, they must move beyond fear and cultural relativism towards accepting the other. That means taking time in order to accept divergences and to nourish the sensitivity which enables one to give a place to each in his or her own particularity. That is why we plead for respect for the religious convictions of each and for social pluralism.

Culture of peace

Tolerance is the active recognition of diversity. It means respecting, with kindness and friendliness, the otherness of the person with whom we differ religiously, culturally, or otherwise. Tolerance does not mean unconditional approval of the ideas of others nor of the way they live. Tolerance means respecting the other’s human rights, without necessarily sharing his or her points of view. We advocate the right to difference but not a difference in rights. The right to difference within a respect for the values of society. Tolerance supposes mutual respect, not compromises in peoples’ beliefs. It implies also that in a democratic society all may speak openly and freely, also when their views are controversial. Tolerance does not prevent us from speaking clearly against injustice, oppression, violence and everything which threatens life. But a cohesive and peaceful society must equally protect its institutions against intolerance. In this framework, we believe that in the matter of the expression of religious conviction, the State is neutral and that it has to guarantee and promote the fundamental human rights of the person such as freedom of thought and freedom of expression. A humane society has to be able to accept people and associations who display a religious conviction.


Commitments to tolerance

Based on this understanding of tolerance we, as BCRL, commit ourselves to work individually and together to translate this attitude of tolerance into transformative acts of toleration. In our teaching, preaching and leadership we will emphasise that in our religions which inspires mutual respect and acceptance. We speak clearly and publicly against, and when required we confront, that which fosters intolerance and discrimination. We will do all we can to counter any form of hate speech or other hate crimes, whether it is in the form of anti-semitism, islamophobia, attacks on Christians or any other religion. We acknowledge our responsibility to take action especially when such acts are presented as having a religious justification.

In a tolerant society people have the right to promote their faith and to manifest it in public. This includes displaying religious symbols, wearing religious dress or signs, establishing schools for the education of new generations, and building places of worship which conform to their religious tradition. We believe that such manifestations contribute to the richness of a society, and also acknowledge that such presence in public space implies a responsibility to respect the rights and sensitivities of those who do not share our religion.

We will continue to explore our faiths and traditions to celebrate what we have in common and establish understanding when we disagree. We will act together when possible, and also develop an ethics of disagreement and dialgogue. Convinced that interreligious dialogue is a powerful way of promoting tolerance, we will actively share with others, including policy makers, the deep insights and inspiration which we achieve through working together as an interreligious council with mutual respect and recognition.

Peace as a Personal Responsibility

All this means that the Belgian Council of Religious Leaders affirms its full adherence to our responsibilities as citizens and to the essential principals of our constitutional democracy, as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and in our Constitution – which is our shared heritage. We are firmly engaged in dialogue and so we call on the public authorities at all levels to privilege the way of consultation rather than the way of prohibition.

André Leonard (Roman Cathilic Community); M. Panteleimon (Orthodoxe Community); Robert Innes (Anglican Community); Guy Liagre en Francis Renneboog (Protestant-Evangelic Community); Abdulaziz M. Al-Yahya, Semsettin Ugurlu en Ahmed Hany Mahfoud (Moslim Community); Albert Guigui (Jewish Community), Lama Karta, Phra Suddhinanavides en Frank De Waele (Buddist Community); Herman Janssens (Hindu Community); Ramesh Mehta (Jaïn Community).

 

Brussels, 11 September 2010.