Last Friday afternoon I was in the building of the UN High Commission of Human Rights in Geneva. Together with the other participants of the conference of theologians that was held, just across the border into France, at Collonges-sous-Salėve, I took part in the excursion to the headquarters of this section of the United Nations that has it headquarters in the Wilson Palace in Geneva. It proved to be an educational afternoon. First we received a detailed explanation of the work of the section that monitors the implementation of the Treaty against Torture, which was signed by about 170 countries. Then we moved to another large meeting room where we received detailed information about the Faith for Rights initiative of the UN, which underlines the important role faith communities can play in the promotion and implementation of human rights. This visit, however, was not the only time in the past week that I was confronted with human rights issues.
The worldwide implementation of human rights remains, also in 2019, an important priority, and it was good, once again, to be made aware of this. I consider it a privilege to live in a country where the human rights situation is quite good. People in the Netherlands are free to hold meetings, and to express their opinions; they are also free to organize protest demonstrations–just to mention a few of the human rights. The Dutch also live in a country where freedom of religion is cherished as a fundamental human right. However, there may at times be situations when these rights must face some restrictions. According to the Dutch authorities the plan of the American pastor Steven Andersen to come to the Netherlands, and to preach on May 23 in Amsterdam, was such a situation.
What was so special about the plans of this pastor? The fact that someone has outlandish ideas or preaches a bizar form of religion is, in itself, no reason to block him or her from entering the country. Members of the ‘flat earth society’ may freely promote their theory and wicca’s and even Satanists are free to say what they want as long as they do not endanger the public order. However, pastor Andersen is known as someone who denies the holocaust. It baffles me how someone can claim that the holocaust never happened, but the danger of this belief is that it fits into an ant-Semitic pattern. In the light of history the authorities are fully justified in ensuring that a person who will, directly or indirectly, incite anti-Semitic sentiments, does not get a platform. Pastor Andersen also believes that people with a non-hetero sexual orientation should be executed by the government. This pastor is free to believe that homo’s will not get to heaven, but he is not free in inciting hatred towards homosexuals. The authorities should not lightly decide to silence people with generally unwelcome opinions, but in this case we can only regard it as positive that the Dutch government decided not to allow the pastor to enter the Netherlands. In this instance, the rights of the people in general carried more weight than the right of free speech of pastor Andersen.
Very recently something else happened in the domain of human rights, specifically the right to religious freedom. It was a great moment when in 1965 the Roman Catholic Church, during the Second Vatican Council, declared that it would henceforth recognize the right of religious freedom. The document that was adopted in 1965 has now been revised by the International Theological Commission of the Vatican, and approved by Pope Francis on April 23. The document supports unequivocally full religious freedom for Christians and for all other people. The report states that there can be no return to a church which once upon a time was opposed to religious freedom! Of course, there will be those who totally mistrust the Catholic Church, and who will maintain that these words are simply meant to mislead the world and disguise the Vatican’s true intentions. I believe, this is an unchristian attitude. Non-Catholic Christians should rather be grateful that the road that the church entered upon over half a century ago has not proven to be a dead-end street, but has now been newly paved.