I commend Pope Benedict XVI for his profoundly moving address to the United Nations which emphasized the need for universal human rights, based on natural law, as a condition and foundation for world peace.
The West, in particular, has largely accepted a public or social morality that emphasizes terms like progress, freedom, liberty, equality, justice and peace. But these concepts are decidedly vague and largely confined to party politics where they are open to all kinds of abuse. Moral consciousness is now, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "purely a species of functional rationality. In such a world where calculations are the norm, it is the calculations of consequences that ultimately determines what is moral and immoral." Nothing is good or evil in itself. There are no absolute values.
When human interests and values are based on reason alone, apart from the truth that transcends them, the individual and his human rights, dignity, worth, and capacity for self-realization are at the mercy of caprice. Religion, on the other hand "favors conversion of heart" which provides the proper context for commitment, dialogue, authentic human rights and ultimately peace.
Religious freedom, therefore, must be considered a fundamental right that precedes the state and which cannot be severely curtailed or denied by it. Put more broadly, and as Pope John Paul II put it, religious freedom is the "first freedom." It is "the premise and guarantee of all freedoms that ensure the common good."
With respectful and cordial best wishes I remain, sincerely yours,