Strong in this belief we propose a reading of the Declaration Dignitatis humanae of 7 December 1965. This document has been at the centre of controversial – and even opposite – interpretations and perhaps Christian communities have not sufficiently dwelt upon the importance of its teaching. At n. 2 ¬Dignitatis humanae ‘declares that 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 itself’. By this simple statement the Council invites us to understand the convergence of reason and faith in the recognition of the dignity of the human person. This, indeed, is the foundation of religious freedom, whose subject is not the contents of religion or its claims to truth but being ‘immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits’ (DH, 2).
This teaching of the Second Vatican Council was taken up by Benedict XVI on the occasion of his address to the members of the General Assembly of the United Nations on 18 April 2008. It was taken up and deepened because the Pope observed that ‘The full guarantee of religious liberty cannot be limited to the free exercise of worship, but has to give due consideration to the public dimension of religion, and hence to the possibility of believers playing their part in building the social order’.
This teaching on religious freedom emerges as a cornerstone for the ¬building up of a new secularity that increasingly urgent.