One of the distinctive characteristics of the evolution of contemporary societies along the 20th century is the trend towards polarization, in almost every area. The consequence is an increasing social division, which prevents the harmony that people need to live together peacefully and seek freely their own destiny and happiness. This phenomenon affects particularly the sphere of citizens’ religious and ethical choices. Radical positions —religious or anti-religious— are on the rise, and those who think differently are regarded as actual or potential enemies; people, therefore, who must be fought or excluded but never included or considered as equals.
Such attitudes of intolerance towards dissenters have not only taken root in a large part of the population but are also gaining momentum in legislatures, governments, and even in the judiciary. Search for uniformity, and not respect for difference, tends to prevail as a usual pattern of behavior, among individuals and institutions, sometimes spontaneously and other times because of the intentional activity of those who wish to impose their monopoly of the truth. The more and more aggressive political discourse is a clear reflection of that tendency.
The general theme of the 6th ICLARS Conference —Human dignity, law, and religious diversity: Designing the future of inter-cultural societies— fully connects with the concern raised by this phenomenon. On the premise that freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the human rights that define every person’s inherent autonomy, the aim is to analyze how the notion of human dignity, which constitutes the central axis of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can contribute to create common ground between competing concepts of human rights. Human rights are supposed to be instruments of social cohesion but have often become a battlefield for opposing ethical and political positions. This betrays the very idea of human rights, universal by nature and intended to unite society instead of dividing it.
In the realm of freedom of religion or belief, contemporary societies experience numerous challenges if they want to truly qualify as inclusive. For instance, the tensions that occasionally emerge between religious freedom and other human rights (such as freedom of expression, the right to respect for private and family life, or the right to marriage); the efficient protection of the rights of minorities in social environments that may be hostile and sometimes stigmatize those who have a visible religious affiliation other than the majority; conflicts between the exercise of freedom of conscience and other public interests embodied in legislation, which are becoming of increasing significance in areas such as the protection of the right to life or sexual identity; the functional autonomy of religious communities and institutions in the context of labor rights strongly regulated by the State; the relationship, not always harmonious, between the State competences on education and the rights of parents over the education of their children as well as the freedom of teaching that must be recognized to religious institutions; etcetera.
This conference does not aspire to solve those problems, among other reasons because, as all serious social issues, they are not susceptible of easy solutions. However, the conference does want to contribute to generate a culture of respect for diversity, specifically in the area of the citizens’ religious and ethical choices. To this purpose, it is indispensable to understand that religious and ethical choices are not something incidental or inconsequential but part of the very identity of a person. For this reason, creating truly open societies is only possible when there is a high degree of guarantee of freedom of religion or belief. This is not, of course, an absolute freedom, but it does not have necessarily to yield in every situation of conflict with other freedoms or other legal interests. Such conflicts, on the other hand, can almost always be avoided if legislators, governments, and courts realize how important it is to design the public space in a way that reflects, and accepts, the religious and ethical plurality existing in society.
The contribution of the various branches of government, as well as civil society and international institutions, to the promotion of a culture of respect for freedom and pluralism will occupy an important place in the structure of the plenary sessions of the conference. These will be held in the mornings, in the Palacio de Congresos de Córdoba, and will have simultaneous interpretation Spanish-English.
The parallel sessions will be held after lunch, in any of the five working languages of the conference: Spanish, English, Italian, French or Portuguese. Their high number —seventy— and the diversity of their subjects is the result of an extraordinary positive response to the conference call for papers and panels. This is an expression of the great interest that these issues raise in academia and the vitality of this branch of legal studies —law and religion— all over the world. Due to space needs, parallel sessions will be held in various locations, within walking distance, in a maximum radius of approximately 300 meters from the Palacio de Congresos.
The organization of the 6th ICLARS Conference has been carried out by LIRCE (Instituto para el Análisis de la Libertad y la Identidad Religiosa, Cultural y Ética – Institute for the Analysis of Religious, Cultural and Ethical Freedom and Identity), which, as indicated in the program, has worked in collaboration with a number of sponsoring public and private institutions; it has also relied on the invaluable help of an Organizing Committee composed of professors of several Spanish universities and a Scientific Committee constituted by the ICLARS Steering Committee; and it has had the unconditional support of an Honorary Committee presided by HM King Felipe VI of Spain and made up of persons of great prominence in Spanish society. To all of them, our sincere gratitude for having made this conference possible.
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