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
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.
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.