News Release

  Human Dignity and Freedom of Religion or Belief

Preventing and Addressing Persecution

 From October 6 – 8, 2019, One Hundred and Twenty-five delegates from Sixty countries converged at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, United States of America for the 26th Annual International Law and Religion Symposium organized by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies of the university.

Speakers and discussants from across the world discussed the symposium theme, ‘Human Dignity and Freedom of Religion or Belief: Preventing and Addressing Persecution’. The Symposium looked at persecution from numerous angles: What leads to persecution and how does it function? How can religions, media, international organizations, and human rights advocates better work together to address religious persecution? What are the roles of judiciaries and national governments in preventing persecution and ensuring accountability of those involved? How can religious and interfaith groups work better to ensure global solidarity and respect for the dignity of all?  In their welcome address, Brett Scharffs and Elizabeth Clark, Director and Associate Director respectively of the International Centre for Law and Religion Studies stated: ‘When human dignity is protected and vindicated, the results are cultures of dignity that respect difference and are inclusive; when human dignity is degraded, the ultimate results are persecution and even genocide.’ They urged participants to be part of efforts worldwide to address and prevent religious persecution.


Africa was fully represented at the symposium with speakers and discussants from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa.

His Majesty, Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona VI, Osu Mantse and President, Osu Traditional Council, Ghana, spoke on the role of traditional institutions play in promoting freedom of religion or belief and preventing persecution in their communities. The traditional institution he stated, accepts all forms of religious worship as it believes that we were all worshiping the same God. Persecution he said, is minimal in Ghana because of structures which have been put in place such as a national council on religious affairs where all religions are represented. He condemned the practice where some persons are forced to leave their communities for refusing to ascend to some traditional stools because of their religious beliefs. This according to him is persecution and it must stop.

 Yacine Gaye Mbaye, Coordinator, Division of Association Rights and Administrative Policies, General Direction of Territorial Administration, Ministry of Interior, Senegal, speaking on Religious Tolerance stated that Senegal is a predominantly Muslim country with a long history of religious tolerance. ‘’In Senegal, a Muslim can choose between Islamic and Civil law in conducting his or her affairs. The government does not promote a particular religion as it supports and finances both Islamic and Christian pilgrimages.  Senegal is probably the only country in the world that has a cemetery for both Muslims and Christians with Muslims buried on one side and Christians on the other side.’’

Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Lecturer, Department of Public Law, University of Lagos, speaking on freedom of religion in Nigeria stated that the country follows international norms when it comes to religious practices. Due to the various religious clashes and persecutions that had occurred over the years in the country, to promote human dignity and prevent religious persecution, she believes that the laws are not enough. ‘’Government must address impunity and work towards a just society. There must be a cultural shift through behavioral change and communication on the part of the citizens. Communities must mobilize for respect of human dignity and build on the culture of religious tolerance existing in the country in order to be able to build a just and equitable society for all’’.

 Barbara F. Ackah Yensu, Judge, Court of Appeals, Ghana, in the panel for judges, stated that the constitution of Ghana, has adequate provisions for the protection of the religious rights of citizens. Where there are conflicts, matters are brought to the law courts for adjudication and are settled according to the provisions of the constitution. No religion is favored against another as the country does not have a State religion.

The International Center for Law and Religion Studies (ICLRS) at Brigham Young University has a threefold mission: (1) to expand and disseminate knowledge and expertise regarding the interrelationship of law and religion; (2) to facilitate the growth of networks of scholars, experts and policy makers involved in the field of religion and law; and (3) to contribute to law reform processes and broader implementation of principles of religious freedom worldwide.

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