Freedom of belief – The Fundación para la Mejora de la Vida, la Cultura y la Sociedad (Foundation for the Improvement of Life, Culture and Society) gathered once again this year in Madrid to present the Religious Freedom Awards, awards that for the past decade have sought to recognise the enormous work of individuals and institutions in defence of freedom of belief and the fundamental human right to freedom of religion, thought and conscience.
The general secretary of the organising foundation, Isabel Ayuso Puente, opened the ceremony by giving an emotional welcome to the authorities and national and international representatives gathered at this tenth edition of the awards, which honoured on 15 December 2023 the university professors Igor Minteguía Arregui, Francisca Pérez Madrid and Mónica Cornejo Valle (see specific articles by clicking on their names).
Ayuso was especially grateful for the presence of religious leaders from different confessions, renowned academics, heads of civil organisations and other guests who, once again this year, supported with their attendance an event that aims to give visibility to the notable advances that have taken place in recent times to promote the diversity of beliefs to be increasingly “better known, more recognised and more respected” in our country.
It is a long road towards a more tolerant society that all those present here are travelling every day in their respective fields of activism, research, dissemination and social commitment.
State Institutions committed to diversity
Representing the public sector, the ceremony featured speeches by the Director of the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation, Inés Mazarrasa, and the Deputy Director of Religious Freedom at the Ministry of the Presidency, Mercedes Murillo, which has become a happy tradition.
Mazarrasa began by saying that “it is always a very, very happy occasion to meet in such an impressive space as the Scientology headquarters here in Madrid, and to do so also to recognise the work of people who have in common the defence of a fundamental right such as the right to religious freedom”.
She placed special emphasis on the fact that a very important area of his work is “everything that has to do with dissemination, education and raising awareness of the right to religious freedom and, specifically, also of religious diversity. It seems fundamental to us to do so, and I believe that the video we have just seen also reflects this same idea”.
The director of Pluralism and Coexistence recalled that guaranteeing the real and effective fulfilment of this fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution, which is the right to freedom of thought, religion and worship, is a constant task that does not allow for relaxation or pauses, as “rights must be actively defended, otherwise, there are always, unfortunately, risks of regression, and therefore we must work for the recognition of those who defend and contribute from knowledge, from different areas of law, anthropology and sociology”, she warned.
Mazarrasa highlighted the daily commitment of the public foundation he directs, which is charged by law with promoting the visibility and knowledge of Spain’s heterogeneous religious reality in all its aspects.
For her part, the Deputy Director of Religious Freedom, Mercedes Murillo, also reaffirmed the need for the central administration to continue unwaveringly “the work that each of us carries out from wherever we are in favour of creating the conditions that allow for a fuller exercise of religious freedom in the context of increasingly open and plural societies”.
Murillo, after congratulating the work carried out by the Fundación Mejora, stressed that the decisive support for initiatives such as the Religious Freedom Awards, already consolidated as international benchmark awards in their field, should be understood precisely in terms of reinforcing this civic and political commitment to the normalisation, protection and permanent promotion of the rich religious diversity that distinguishes Spanish society.
Regarding the 2023 laureates, she said that “once again this year, three outstanding specialists in the field of religious freedom, Professor Igor Eguía, Professor Francisca Pérez Madrid and Professor Mónica Cornejo, whose respective contributions to the study, analysis and understanding of the legal and social aspects of religious freedom will be well-recognised at this event, are deservedly awarded. My congratulations and recognition to all three of them”.
A thought-provoking video
As a preamble to the presentation of the awards to the honorees in this 2023 edition, the secretary general of the Foundation for the Improvement of Life, Isabel Ayuso, presented a video based on an excerpt from the book “The Way to Happiness”, a work by the philosopher and humanist L. Ron Hubbard that includes a series of ethical and moral principles and guidelines to achieve personal well-being and contribute to a more just society.
The passage chosen for the occasion, from chapter 18 of this unique code of conduct, is entitled “Respect the religious beliefs of others”. A maxim that, for Ayuso Puente, perfectly condenses the philosophy that permeates these annual awards for the protection of freedom of conscience: “Tolerance is a fundamental cornerstone on which to build harmonious human relations”.
“Religious tolerance does not mean that one cannot express one’s own beliefs. But it does imply that trying to undermine or attack the faith of others often does more harm than good for coexistence”, the video states, which stresses a strong idea: “Faith and belief are elements that do not necessarily yield to logic, they cannot be settled in categories of rationality or irrationality”.
Given the complexity of this area and the “inability of the most privileged minds to settle historical metaphysical controversies”, the video calls for an exercise of prudent self-restraint: “In this ocean of controversy, we must navigate with respect. Respect the religious beliefs of others”.
A tolerant attitude that the hostess Ayuso Puente condensed with the phrase: “Respect to be respected”. An invitation to empathy that should guide relations in an advanced democratic society.
Ten years shielding a fragile right
The consolidation of these awards after a decade of existence highlights the growing relevance that the protection of religious freedom now has on the Spanish public agenda. However, despite the progress made, this right is not protected and still maintains a fragility that requires a sustained effort to protect it.
As Inés Mazarrasa, Director of Pluralism and Coexistence, pointed out in her speech, it is necessary to promote the recognition of religious diversity as a fundamental element of respect. This responsibility to actively ensure the consolidation of the rule of law that protects ideological diversity falls not only on the public authorities but also on civil society as a whole. “The challenge of integrating this complex but enriching mix of faiths within a framework of democratic coexistence concerns official institutions, citizen foundations, minority religious communities and citizens as a whole,” said Iván Arjona, who, in addition to chairing the Fundación Mejora, represents Scientology before European institutions and the United Nations.
Only through choral action that unites efforts will it be possible to protect the fuller exercise of freedom of conscience, which Mercedes Murillo, deputy director of Religious Freedom for the Spanish government, also advocated on this day. Although this path, as the ministerial representative pointed out, is not free of obstacles, the support and commitment of the entire social fabric is the best way to continue moving forward steadily.
All actors have a role to play in this collective challenge of peacefully integrating growing religious diversity. From the academic world through rigorous research, to the administrations through the reinforcement of the anti-discrimination legal framework, to civic foundations with their informative work, or the minorities of believers themselves with their activism and their demands in the face of any glimmer of intolerance.
The flame of the shared vigil
In this task of shielding the full normalisation of all spiritual options, the work of activists, religious, jurists and intellectuals whose theoretical production or practical intervention has been contributing for years to a better and deeper public knowledge of the complex and rich global and local multi-religious reality is of special relevance.
For the past decade, the Religious Freedom Awards, which every year recognise the life trajectory of some of the leading exponents in Spain of this active vigilance in defence of religious freedoms, have been especially devoted to giving visibility and highlighting this quiet but enormous collective work for a more tolerant society.
These are people from social activism, university classrooms, legal disciplines or inter-religious dialogue whose intellectual or practical contributions have been decisive in advancing knowledge of our heterogeneous religious reality in terms of peaceful coexistence.
If a decade after its launch, this torch is still more alive today than ever, it is undoubtedly also thanks to the exemplary faith and tenacity of those responsible for the Foundation for the Improvement of Life and to the unwavering support that the initiative has aroused since its inception among the host denomination of the awards, the Church of Scientology, already consolidated for years as a firm supporter of this plural Spain that is based on mutual respect.
The path is not without its difficulties, but the commitment of society as a whole continues to be the best guarantee for safeguarding in the coming decades the progress that we have all achieved together towards higher levels of respect for the legitimate diversity of ethical convictions that give transcendent meaning to human life.