The Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion protects everyone’s freedom to hold religious or other beliefs, including atheism, environmentalism, pacifism and veganism. It includes the right to adopt or change one’s beliefs or religion. This aspect of the right is absolute and cannot be interfered with in any circumstances.
The right to freedom of religion also includes the right to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, either alone or in community with others and in private or public. This aspect can be subject to restrictions if the interference is based in law and necessary to protect public safety, public order, health, morals or the rights and freedoms of others.
Restrictions must always be proportionate meaning that public authorities must ensure that a fair balance is struck between the rights of the individual and the competing considerations of other individuals, groups, the wider community or society as a whole. In balancing competing interests, Government must act as a neutral and impartial organiser of the different individuals or groups.
The scope of protection
The scope of protection of this right is broad and includes ceremonial acts, dietary regulations, the wearing of certain clothing or symbols, the use of a particular language or the freedom of religious groups to choose their religious leaders.
With respect to children, Government must respect the rights and duties of parents or legal guardians to provide direction to the child in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.
In certain circumstances, the right may also protect public authorities who refuse to carry out some duties because of their religious beliefs or philosophical convictions from facing sanction from their employers or indeed the criminal justice system. It is not an absolute protection, however, and where conscientious objection competes with the human rights of other individuals, mechanisms must be in place to ensure the rights of others are not violated.