Last update: 2022-04-22 09:45:05
The subject of fundamental rights and democracies comes from the very heart of the Christian anthropological vision, in the light of the word of God, as it has been offered to us by divine revelation, above all through the person and the teachings of Christ the Lord. Thus it is a subject of now and of forever, the subject of every country.
His Holiness John XXII in his apostolic letter Pacem in terris (11 April 1963) wrote that the members of civil communities are citizens because of the simple fact that they are human persons equal in dignity and thus in rights. Fundamental human rights thus arise from man's very nature as expressed by the revealed Word of God and the teaching of the Church.
This concept was the foundation on which were based the Constitutions of countries whose inhabitants professed as a whole or by a majority the Christian faith. Today, on the other hand, most of the democracies of Western countries tend to remove the religious fact, by even omitting the simple indication that fundamental human rights are based in their origins on the Christian tradition or at the least upon a religious dimension which has shaped their culture. This fact appeared with clarity in the preamble to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. With other countries, on the other hand, their Constitutions explicitly mention the religious heritage, for example Islam, as their sole and principle source.
Fundamental rights, as they are defined for example by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, are summarised in dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, citizenship and justice. Each of these headings has a large number of sub-headings. I will address in this paper some expressions of fundamental rights that are closest in subject-matter to my analysis.
Each man has the same dignity because he is created in 'the image and likeness of God' [Gen 1:26-27]. Indeed, 'God shows no partiality' [Acts 10: 34] and 'with Him there is no partiality' [Rom 2:11]. This equality of every person at the level of dignity is expressed and reaches its fulfilment in Christ, the Word made Flesh: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus' [Gal 3:28].
God created man in His image and likeness, and human nature is one thing only, whatever a person's sex, colour, race, nationality, wealth or social class. No person, no man and no institution, has the right, whatever the justification that may be adopted, to deprive a person of his fundamental rights. In particular, he has the right to life, to freedom, to equality, to expression, to religion and the ability to express it, to education, to work, to dignity, and to complete participation in the life of his own country.
These concepts are well expressed in the Universal Declaration that was promulgated by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948 and subsequently confirmed by international accords. The Apostolic Catholic Church has supported and defended these rights on all occasions. The Ecumenical Second Vatican Council proclaimed, in fact, that 'Since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God's likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognitionwith respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, colour, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent.' [Gaudium et Spes, n. 29]. Let us also recall what John Paul II wrote in his message for the World Day for Peace of 1999, under the heading 'Respect for Human Life: the True Path to Peace', which was drawn up on the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration. His Holiness stated that 'the Universal Declaration is clear: it acknowledges the rights which it proclaims but does not confer them, since they are inherent in the human person and in human dignity. Consequently, no one can legitimately deprive another person, whoever they may be, of these rights' [n. 3].The Ecumenical Second Vatican Council II declared that 'authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man' [Gaudium et Spes, n. 17]. The Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats this: 'Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. the right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order' [n. 1738].
I would like here to dwell upon religious freedom and freedom of conscience. The Second Vatican Council dedicated a specific declaration to religious freedom. In that declaration it declared: 'the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itselfthe right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very naturethe exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed [Dignitatis Humanae, n. 2]. This document then went on: 'It follows that he is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind. The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed' [ibidem n. 3]. His Holiness John Paul II belongs to the same approach: 'Religious freedom is inviolablePrecisely for this reason, no one can be compelled to accept a particular religion, whatever the circumstances or motivesthe use of violence can never claim a religious justification, nor can it foster the growth of true religious feeling [Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1999, n. 5]. Freedom of teaching is to be clearly placed with religious freedom and freedom of conscience. The Second Vatican Council declared: 'Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools' [Gravissiumum Educationis, n. 6]. The European Charter of Fundamental Rights envisages is this field that 'the right of parents to provide for the education and instruction of their children in line with their religious, philosophical and pedagogic beliefs is respected by national laws that regulate their exercise' [chap. 2, art. 14].
Democracy and co-citizenship also derive from fundamental rights. We may observe here that the events of 11 September had grave repercussions for the whole world and in particular in our Arab region. Old questions returned, in particular about democracy. Democracy can take many forms since every State must base itself on its own experience and tradition from which it can receive points to deepen the concept of democracy and develop its own life in the light of its own special history, heritage and customs. One cannot impose a form of democracy by force on any people without grave consequences.
To be successful, the democratic experience must be rooted in practice. A democracy cannot grow with balanced economic development. It also requires the involvement and the support of civil society; it descends from education in democracy and the preparation of individuals for political practice; and it needs the establishment of awareness about social questions so that citizens can become able to contribute to the progress of their society.
The Church has an important role in this field, in particular as regards the education of the fundamental religious elements that derive from divine revelation and continue to be deepened through her social doctrine.
His Holiness John Paul II stated in his encyclical Centesimus Annus of 1 May 1991 that 'The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices'. Authentic democracy 'requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the 'subjectivity' of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility' [n. 46]. All of this must be illuminated through a complete and correct conception of man and society. In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (25 March 1995), the Holy Father made clear that democracy is a means and not an end: 'the value of democracy stands or falls with the values that it embodies and promotes' [n. 70]. Healthy values do not derive from changing opinions but only from the objective moral law that translates the order that God has established for man. This law remains stable and does not undergo changes.
The concept of shared citizenship translates fundamental human rights into a single homeland and guarantees the enjoyment of personal freedoms, freedom of expression and thought, and the recognition of human dignity. Shared citizenship means the participation by all the citizens of a specific country without distinctions based on sex, colour, faith or race in the practice of political rights, according to the principles of equality, pluralism and sharing in the decision-making process of the political sphere.
The right to shared citizenship acquires a particular importance in countries characterised by ethnic and religious pluralism.
The foundation of shared citizenship is membership of a homeland, equality and participation, given that the bond between the state and the people in a modern democratic regime is based first of all on membership of a homeland. Whosoever has citizenship in a certain State, is ipso facto its citizen. The basis and the determining factor of shared citizenship is equality. Citizens enjoy the same rights and underwrite the same obligations on the basis of equality before the law. The sovereignty of law is the foundation of a democratic regime. As regards participation, this is expressed in associations, in a civil society built upon pluralism.
Shared participation guarantees that citizens have an opportunity to advance proposals and enter the decision-making process, managing local and general questions of the country, in the division of powers, in taking turns and in control. Shared citizenship also requires the social, economic and cultural security of individuals and groups.
On this point the Second Vatican Council declared that 'the defence of the rights of the person is a necessary condition for citizens, as individuals or in a group, to be able to participate actively in the life and the government of public affairs' [Gaudium et Spes, n. 73 b].
True shared citizenship generates an existential feeling of connection with the land and the homeland and with the other members of society. It is the pillar of democracy because democratic society is based in its structure on each citizen. In it is realised equality and the individual obtains his social position and role, according to his abilities, potential and inclinations. In it is recognised the importance of the role of the individual, with respect for opinions and the opinions of others, rooted in the values of the parity of everyone and of solidarity.
The Second Vatican Council called attention to the spiritual and religious dimension when it stated that 'to install a political life that is truly human there is nothing better than cultivating the interior sense of justice, love and service to the common good' [n. 73b].
For that matter, in exchange for such rights, shared responsibility requires the commitment of individuals as individuals and as members of social bodies to performing their duties and their responsibilities towards other citizens and the society to which they belong, as well as the obligation to contribute to everything that builds up the homeland and society and the defence of fundamental freedoms with legitimate means.
Amongst the duties of shared responsibility there is also the respect of every citizen for the identity of other people, their culture, language and religion, in co-operating in the construction of the democratic edifice built on the pillars of respect and welcome, dialogue and solidarity. This is the best means there is to combat extremism, fundamentalism and forms of discrimination.
Lastly, shared citizenship requires that at a world level citizens act in a solidarity-inspired way with the rest of humanity, as the Second Vatican Council exhorted: 'Citizens must cultivate a generous and loyal spirit of patriotism, but without being narrow-minded. This means that they will always direct their attention to the good of the whole human family, united by the different ties which bind together races, people and nations' [Gaudium et Spes, 75].
In the encyclical Veritatis Splendor of 6 August 1993, the Holy Father John Paul II stated that the defence of immutable universal moral norms is a service not only for individuals but also for society as a whole, with a view to the common good. These norms, in fact, represent, 'the unshakable foundation and solid guarantee of a just and peaceful human co-existence, and hence of genuine democracy' [n. 96].
The Church invites her sons and daughters to make love for Christ and true freedom in Christ, based upon revealed values, the foundation of every aspect of personal life and communal life, in education, in culture, in the economy, in work, in free time, in the family, in national and international society. The Church works to place in the hearts of her sons and daughters a civilisation based on respect for others, on the sanctification of the true and the just, in equality between everyone, brotherhood, and the overcoming of selfishness for common service. She takes as her example Christ in the exercise of power, in a style of service and self-giving.
Here, therefore, are certain reflections on the subject of fundamental rights and democracies, which I have taken from the social doctrine of the Church, while I leave to specialists in the field the task of addressing them from an academic point of view.