Saturday, November 16, 2013

Messiing Up Big Time on Univeral Declaration of Human Rights

Upworthy is a great for progressive memes,videos, infographics and the like. While I recommend it highly, a recent infographic on the Universal Declaration of Rights is almost great, but it contains a major mistake, misrepresenting the UDHR and promoting a retrograde, reactionary definition of a fundamental right. And to make matters worse the infographic has a copyright notice on behalf of the UN. Which means that the  UN  has, whether intentionally or, endorsed a most controversial simplification  that rewrites  the UDHR.

The infographic by Zen Pencils is introduced by Ray Flores with these words:

Did you know that the United Nations outlined what basic rights and freedoms we are entitled to? It's called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I’m really glad Zen Pencils drew up this simplified version, because it sure looks like a lot of countries need a refresher. Yeah, America, I’m looking at you, too!

Can you spot the problem with the infographic?

How about in this enlargement?

In  contrast, look at Article 18 of  the UDHR

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (emphasis added).
"The right to belong a religion" is a poor simplification of these 47 words.  A better simplification would be "Everyone has the right to choose a religion." One fewer word.  And it is big difference.

It seems that Zen Pencils and the United Nations need their own refresher course.

Some of the worst religious persecution is done by those who believe you have a right to belong to a religion as long as it is their religion or the religion you were born into. But no right to join a new religion or to reject religion.

Wikipedia's article on religious freedom notes
Among the most contentious areas of religious freedom is the right of an individual to change or abandon his or her own religion (apostasy), and the right to evangelize individuals seeking to convince others to make such a change.

Other debates have centered around restricting certain kinds of missionary activity by religions. Many Islamic states, and others such as China, severely restrict missionary activities of other religions. Greece, among European countries, has generally looked unfavorably on missionary activities of denominations others than the majority church and proselytizing is constitutionally prohibited.[68]
Another  wiki article notes

many modern Hindus are opposed to the idea of conversion from (any) one religion to (any) other per se.[39]
...conversion out of Hinduism is not recognized.[44]

Historically, the  overwhelmingly dominant position in Islamic jurisprudence applies the death penalty to apostasy (from Islam). Both law and public opinion in contemporary Islamic societies still impose  heavy penalties on those who wish to change theirw religion or to have no religion at all.

See this article on "Apostasy in Islam" on wikipedia. for some details, including poll results on the public attitudes towards  religious freedom in Islamic societies.
A 2010 poll by Pew Research Center showed that 86% of Muslims in Jordan, 30% in Indonesia, 76% in Pakistan, 6% in Lebanon and 51% of Nigerian Muslims agree with death penalty for leaving Islam.

A 2007 poll by Policy Exchange revealed that 31% of British Muslims believed that leaving the Muslim religion should be punishable by death.
Let's hope Zen  Pencils and the United Nations will fully embrace the full concept of religious freedom enshrined in the UDHR  and not a watered down version that de facto enables religious discrimination and persecution.   How about changing the wording on this infographic and creating one dedicated to the full meaning of religious freedom in the UDHR?


David O. Knuttunen said...

Your own simplification is also problematic. The actual language appears somewhat problematic, based on the quote you give (I have not read the document), but at least gives wiggle room. Can you spot the problem? Hint: It begins with "A" (and continues with "theist"). It is critically important to be able to choose NOT to choose a religion. The actual citation you give at least includes the word "belief", and could be construed to include the belief that all religions are false. In this world where reportedly Ted Cruz's father has suggested putting all atheists in concentration camps, it is critically important not to leave this out.

Stuart Elliott said...

Good point. Perhaps the "right to choose a religion or no religion" or the "right of conscience."