A Panel on Human Rights and Freedom of Conscience

This December marked the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which originated largely in response to what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil” manifested above all in the holocaust, the perpetrators of which were tried and found guilty because they failed to follow their conscience or a higher law rather than the law of the land. Conscience is mentioned in the very first article of the UNHR and freedom of conscience is asserted in article 18.

This panel explored the origins of the UNHR, its articles relating to freedom of conscience and their connection with freedom of religion. It will then compare and examine how freedom of conscience has played out in the American and Canadian contexts with a focus on current issues and debates.

Our keynote speaker was William L. Saunders Jr., Director of the Program in Human Rights for the Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America. Our panel of respondents included Rev. Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett, Programme Director of Cardus Law, Senior Fellow at Washington’s Religious Freedom Institute, and former Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom; Dr. Victor Muñiz-Fraticelli, Associate Professor of Law and Political Science at McGill University; Dr. Christina Lamb, Bioethicist and Assistant Professor of Nursing, University of Alberta; and Brian Bird, Doctoral Candidate in Law at McGill University, whose work focuses on freedom of conscience. The Panel was chaired by Anne Leahy, former Canadian Ambassador to Russia and The Holy See, and Affiliate Member of the School of Religious Studies, McGill University.

This event was hosted by the Newman Centre (3484 Peel Street) in partnership with McGill University’s Faculty of Law, Centre for Research on Religion, and Office for Religious and Spiritual Life, as well as the Thomas More Society of Montreal, Cardus, and the Pillars Trust Fund.