From 26 to 29 September 2022 the Group of Experts of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), headquarters in Washington, USA met in Lisbon, Portugal, to discuss the sensitive and current topic of "Religious Freedom in Light of Modern Conceptions of Sexuality and Gender: Irreconcilable Differences and/or Spaces for Conversations?”.
During the three days of the meeting, Experts in religious freedom, coming in particular from North America and Europe, presented studies and developed debates on the connections between the principle of religious freedom and the problematic of sexuality and gender, from a perspective based on the dignity and freedom of each human being and taking in consideration for the cosmovision of religious communities.
There was also space for the visit of the President of the Commission for Religious Freedom and the High Commissioner for Refugees of Portugal, as well as experts on religious issues, who presented the context and state of religious issues of the host country. At the end, the experts agreed on a final statement on the topic under discussion, which we reproduce here:
The scholars and experts of the International Religious Liberty Association met in Lisbon, Portugal, from September 26 to 29, 2022, to re-evaluate and reconsider the historical legacy of often mutual antagonism between religious communities who wish to protect rights of religion and belief and those promoting gender equality and equal rights for the LGBT+ community. To the core question of the title, "Religious Freedom in Light of Modern Conceptions of Sexuality and Gender: Irreconcilable Differences and/or Spaces for Conversations?” we do not find the recognition of rights to be incompatible. The participants discussed the diverse understandings of gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity found across the globe and the lack of consensus about how to respond to this diversity, especially in relation to religious freedom. Differences of opinion on these topics can be found between and within religious communities, between religious and non-religious persons, and amongst non-religious persons.
Considering our commitment to religious freedom and human rights, the participants agreed that robust mutual accommodation should be sought between the liberty of religious individuals and institutions and the dignity of all persons, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Instances of efforts to achieve a balance between religious freedom and sexual and gender diversity were discussed, including legislation out of the American state of Utah, and the Fairness for All Act, under consideration in the United States Congress. These bills seek to protect both religious freedom as well as diversity and dignity in relation to gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
As supporters of freedom of religion and belief, we recognize that this fundamental freedom recognized by the international community is part of a range of human and civil rights that protects basic human dignity for all. We urge all human rights advocates, including religious liberty advocates, to facilitate dialogue and work both for laws that protect religious freedom for all, as well as the humanity, dignity, and civil rights of LGBT+ persons.
Paulo Sérgio Macedo, Secretary General of the AIDLR, was present at the meeting, demonstrating the proximity of principles between the two institutions which defend freedom of conscience, worship and religion. His presentation was entitled "Religion and Speech: free speech and speech limits in the public sphere. The influence of speech in peace building versus the effect of limitation of speech on religious rights", serving as the launch of the AIDLR Conference on this topic, to be held from 6 to 9 February 2023.
The IRLA - International Religious Liberty Association is an Association that defends and promotes the principle of religious liberty, having been born in Washington in 1893. The President is currently Dr. John Nay and the Secretary-General is Dr. Ganoune Diop. The Experts Meeting is an extraordinary moment of reflection and debate among international academics and scholars, which has been held annually for more than 20 years.