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Poland Shows Democracy and Religious Freedom go Hand-in-hand

This is a transcript of Judd Birdsall’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the 2015 Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy.

 

I would like to offer a few thoughts on the relationship between religious freedom and democracy.

Poland is a great place to discuss both of these issues because Poland provides a model of how religious freedom and democracy go hand in hand, reinforcing each other.

Poland has a long tradition of religious tolerance, going back to the Warsaw Confederation of the 16th century, and perhaps earlier. Thus the Polish tradition of religious tolerance is far than the United States itself. So, I’m humbled to be here as an American discussing these issues today.

And in contemporary Poland there is a very high level of religious freedom. The U.S. State Department, where I used to work, just released its annual Report on International Religious Freedom last week, and you’ll see that the chapter on Poland is very complimentary of the Polish government and society.

On Wednesday many of us went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, and I want to thank the conference organizers for including that in the agenda. It was a sobering and instructive experience. I was struck by the many elements of faith throughout the museum, reminders that the church helped to sustain the Polish people through very difficult times. And there’s a video playing of the Pope’s visit to Warsaw in 1979. Throughout the 1980s and 90s Catholics in Poland used their expanding religious freedom to push for democratic reforms.

So, Poland shows that religious freedom and democracy can go hand-in-hand.

But we often still talk about them quite separately. We treat them in isolation.

In the West it seems to me that there are two unhelpful ways of divorcing religious freedom from democracy.

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CIRIS Director Speaks on Democracy and Religious Freedom at Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy

On 26 October 2015 CIRIS Managing Director Judd Birdsall spoke on the inseparability of religious freedom and democracy at the 4th annual Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy. In his remarks Birdsall argued that democracy and religious freedom are too often promoted in isolation from each other. And yet the example of Poland’s Catholicism-inspired transition from communism to democracy shows that religious freedom and democracy are mutually reinforcing.

Click here to read the transcript of Birdsall’s remarks.

Launched in 2012, the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy is organised by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This year the Dialogue brought together some 200 human rights activists to discuss the theme “Democracy at the crossroads? Current threats and opportunities.”

 

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At CIRIS, we aim to equip students and scholars in Cambridge and beyond with a robust and nuanced appreciation for the role of religion in international politics that they will take with them into their future research and/or practice around the world. To this end, we host public lectures, academic seminars, and other events. We are also pursuing research projects that draw on the contributions of Cambridge-based academics.

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