The World Council of Churches has endorsed the draft Convention on the International Protection of Places of Worship proposed to the United Nations by the International Movement for a Just World (JUST). The proposal document-consisting of a preamble and six articles-aims to ensure the equal treatment of all religious communities in the protection of places of worship. In addition, the convention will form Commissions on Public Places of Worship in participating countries, consisting of government officials and
The General Assembly of the United Nations,
Considering that one of the basic principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is that every PERSON has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and in public or private, to manifest his/her religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance,
Considering that the disregard and infringement of freedom of thought, conscience and religion has kindled hatred and caused violence among people and nations,
Concerned by manifestations of religious intolerance as evidenced by destruction of or wilful damage to places of worship and other sacred sites of cultural and religious memory and learning in many parts of the world,
Concerned also by the existence of discrimination in many parts of the world in the grant of permission to establish, maintain, and fully use institutions for religious purposes,
Resolves to adopt all necessary measures for the speedy and effective elimination of such intolerance in all forms and manifestations, and to prevent and struggle against such discrimination,
Proclaims this Convention on the Protection of Places of Worship:
Article 1 – Protection of Places of Worship
1.1 Every religious group has the right to establish places of worship to manifest its religion or belief through worship, observance, practice and teaching.
1.2 Every religious group has the right to preserve, maintain, administer, and make full use of its places of worship..
1.3 Every religious group has the right to acquire and own property and to hold and administer it in accordance with law.
1.4 Every religious group has the right to appoint and train its own religious officials and promulgate and propagate its beliefs within its own community. Every religious group has the right to maintain relations with parent organizations and other religious faiths.
1.5 Public places of worship registered under Article 4 shall be independent and may, subject to laws relating to societies and organizations, lay down their own organizational rules and internal by-laws.
1.6 Registered places of public worship shall be entitled to receive voluntary financial and other contributions from individuals and institutions.
1.7 Registered places of public worship shall be protected against unlawful or unreasonable demolition, re-location, regulation or compulsory acquisition.
Article 2 – Equal Treatment
2.1 No religious group seeking to establish, preserve, maintain or administer a public place of worship shall be subject to discrimination or arbitrary interference by any state, state institution, group of persons or person on the ground only of religion or belief.
2.2 For the purpose of the present Convention, the expression “discrimination on the ground only of religion or belief” shall refer to any unreasonable distinction, exclusion, restriction, imposition of condition or preference having as its purpose or as its effect, nullification or impairment of the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of the freedom of conscience and religion.
Article 3 – Permissible Restrictions
3.1 Freedom to establish, preserve, maintain, administer, and fully use public places of worship may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, public order, health, morals and the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
3.2 The right of religious groups to establish, preserve, maintain and administer public places of worship may be subjected to the power of the state to impose reasonable restrictions on the ground of zoning and planning requirements subject, however, to the requirement that national policies, programmes and regulatory provisions shall be formulated and implemented with due regard to the need to preserve and allow to flourish places of worship of all communities.
Article 4 – Registration of Public Places of Worship
4.1 Public places of worship shall acquire legal personality once registered in the corresponding public Registry created for this purpose and kept in the designated institution or department of government.
4.2 Registration shall be granted by virtue of an application together with an authentic document containing proof of title to the land or property involved, proof of the foundation or establishment of the organization, declaration of religious purpose, denomination and other particulars of identity, rules of procedure, names of representative bodies and the powers of such bodies.
4.3 Registration shall not be refused solely on the ground that a place of worship has fallen into disuse or the number of faithful frequenting it has declined.
4.4 Registration of a public place of worship may only be cancelled at the request of its representative body or in compliance with a final court sentence.
Article 5 – Remedies
5.1 Executive decisions on demolition, re-location or refusal of planning permission shall be guided by the principles of openness, fairness and impartiality. The broad principles animating these decisions shall be made known. Judicial review of such decisions shall be available.
5.2 Destruction or defilement of or damage to any registered place of public worship shall be treated as a new and separate criminal offence, a cultural crime against humanity. Any private citizen or public official who aids and abets in the destruction or defilement of or damage to a registered place of public worship shall be punished in accordance with the law of the place where the offense occurred, as well as by foreign tribunals possessing the relevant legal authority.
5.3 Public places of worship wrongfully damaged or destroyed shall be repaired or rebuilt at the expense of those responsible if possible, and otherwise by governing authorities of the territory where the offense occurred .
Article 6 – Commission on Public Places of Worship
6.1 A Commission on Public Places of Worship shall be established on a country by country basis (or in participating countries) the membership of which shall be stable and divided equally between government representatives and representatives of the corresponding faiths and religious communities in the country.
6.2 The functions of the Commission shall be to review, report on and set forth proposals to the national government with respect to issues relating to the enforcement of this Convention; and to conciliate disputes between religious groups inter se and between religious groups and public authorities.