FORUM OF RELIGIONS IN MILAN
CHARTER OF MILAN 2013
Together for a symphony of peace, solidarity and justice
Foreword to the Ten Points of the CHARTER OF MILAN 2013
For many years, the religious communities of Milan have undertaken a path of positive meetings in order to facilitate and develop relationships of mutual acceptance and understanding. One of the most important outcomes of this is the Forum of Religions in Milan, formed on the 21st of March, 2006.
Starting with the conviction that the great spiritual traditions may, with their own heritage of wisdom and ethical values, foster the growth of a more inclusive, harmonious, just and supportive society, the Forum intends to hold talks with the civil institutions, in order to guarantee the rights to freedom of conscience, opinion and religion in the public sphere and to encourage action to promote the common good of citizens and further the realisation of its aims.
The Forum thus expresses its awareness that the religious communities are
a component of a plural society, and act inside its unitary constitutional principles and its lawful legal system. Therefore they can offer a positive contribution to the continuous edification of the “common house”, accepting that this is always, in freedom and democracy, the “house of all citizens” beyond the different ethnic, cultural and religious affiliation, “without any distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinions, personal and social conditions”, as stated in the 3rd article of the Italian Constitution.
From the perspective of the Charter of Milan 2013, the Forum proposes to contribute in the elaboration of inspirational criteria and working practices within civil society and its public institutions, in order to promote a balanced ratio between the political and administrative bodies of the polis, on one hand, and the community and religious associations on the other.
On the 17th centenary of the historic initiative taken by Constantine and Licinius in Milan in 313 A.D., in favour of religious freedom, with the direct involvement of the city and its institutions, we intend to focus attention on arrangements to implement the fundamental democratic principle of religious freedom, through an indispensable dialogue among religions and productive collaboration with public institutions.
The Forum hopes that the Charter of Milan 2013 offers opportunities for debate and public discussion, in order to widen the scope of its content and realize an increasingly fruitful coexistence among people and a peace based on justice, participation and solidarity.
The Ten Points of the CHARTER of MILAN 2013
- The religious communities recognise that the plurality of faiths and cults, besides being an irreversible historical fact, represents a condition rich in positive potential. Fostering encounter and mutual acquaintance enables a full and common acknowledgement of personal dignity. Hence religious communities are committed to enhance teaching aimed at strengthening a mature sense of social solidarity, by encouraging guidelines and practices which recognise human dignity, freedom of conscience, conviction and religious belief.
- In compliance with the Italian Constitution, for the purpose of its full implementation as regards the relations between the State and the individual religious communities, the latter are committed to promote activities and practices aimed at developing the principles of equality between citizens and the full exercise of religious freedom.
- Each religious community is invited to actively acquaint itself with the history and cultural peculiarities, as well as the changes arising from the ongoing transformation of the social structure of the country in which it operates. Provided it does not affect the rights of freedom and equality, this acknowledgement implies the consideration of the influence on the story, on the civilization and on the culture of a specific territory, of the symbols, the religious sites, the traditions, the rites and the customs that belong to the religions that have been or are still practiced there.
- The communities of faith recognise the value of religious culture in its expressions, both confessional and non-confessional, for the formation and maturation of the human personality. They also hope that this value is properly cultivated, together with the principles of solidarity, responsibility and participation that the Italian Constitution puts as a foundation for the development of the human person.
- In the context of an increasingly diversified society, it becomes urgent to promote a correct information on the different religious traditions. In this respect, the mass media, the school and the various confessional communities can contribute to overcome the logic of conflict or of prejudice towards other religious communities, in order to affirm, on the contrary, a culture of dialogue, promoting living together harmoniously and productively.
- The civil institutions promote principles and practices that guarantee the equal freedom of the confessional communities and remove the remaining obstacles to full implementation of the constitutional rights in this matter.
- Routine procedure to establish local inter-religious councils, aimed at promoting a continuous exchange of ideas with the various communities, should be enhanced and widespread. To this purpose, the institutions, both at national and local level, favour, as happens in other parts of the world, networks of inter-religious dialogue raised in civil society, with the awareness that, in an era of continuous transformation, they contribute to the strengthening of social cohesion.
- The possibility for all religious communities to use and open adequate places of worship falls entirely within the framework of the right of religious freedom. Those who hold public responsibilities promote the attainment of this fundamental principle of legal culture, of freedom and democracy.
- The application of the principles of lay state and freedom, expressed in the Italian Constitution, find response in the public spaces (schools, hospitals, prisons, offices…) and in the institutional events, ensuring the respect for the different feelings of those involved.
- The awareness of the social, cultural and spiritual relevance of religious plurality in today’s society be strengthened and widespread, also within the civil sphere, through broadcasting initiatives on issues of freedom of conscience, belief and religion, as well as through the institution of a national or local day, dedicated to the celebration of freedom of religion and opinion.
RELIGIONS AND SOCIETY
Exploring the debate
- The religions in the public space of the polis
- Inside multiethnic and multicultural societies, every religious community needs to be aware of the existence of other religions. The meeting and the dialogue between civil society and the great religious traditions is fundamental. It is in fact on this level, and not on that of the conquest of spaces of power, that religions play their role inside the model of a new emerging society.
Considering this fact, it is important that every single religious community acknowledges, even in principle, the existence of this plurality. Religions are thus called upon to commit themselves to a search, beginning with what, specific in every tradition, is capable of considering the religious plurality as a spiritual, cultural and civil wealth of the whole society.
It is therefore necessary to distance ourselves from positions, not entirely overcome, even today, that claim to enjoy an exclusive or privileged position in society.
- Religions are normally defined according to three fundamental parameters: myth, ritual, ethos. By myth is meant the set of principles and founding stories of a religion; by ritual the religious, ceremonial and other practices (i.e. rules concerning diet or clothing) typical and distinctive of a religious community; finally, ethos concerns the behaviour adopted and prescribed in respect of members of the community and the society in which we live.
- In the public sphere everyone has the right to profess and freely express their beliefs, while respecting the dignity of the human person and the rights of other members of the society. Therefore religious communities should not try to impose their beliefs, rituals or rules on society as a whole, although it is desirable that society as a whole is aware of the beliefs and rituals of its various religions. In this way individual communities can be involved in the growth of a plural religious culture. This includes the diversities within individual traditions that do not necessarily constitute a uniform whole, but may host different spiritual sensibilities.
- Eventually the ethos involves an interaction with persons and groups that do not belong to the sphere of that religious tradition. On this basis, the encounter with principles and rules that, from other perspectives, regulate civil coexistence, is more direct.
- Ethos should not only protect specific spaces and times, but also evaluate rules of behaviour, that must comply with the principles of liberal democratic societies in relation to the dignity and equality of the individuals. The various religious communities may contribute to the common good, by educating their members to embrace motives and ideals that have positive reflexes in the ethical political sphere. Within a plural society, whenever the members of the various religious communities participate in a public debate, aimed at achieving common decisions, they cannot only refer to internal sources specific to their own tradition. It is up to the members of the various religious communities to translate their particular beliefs and principles into motivations and arguments comprehensible to the other members of the polis.
- State, Civil Society, Religions
- Currently there are two main principles that characterise society in many countries: the development of religious plurality (included in this category are people who do not recognise themselves in any religion) and the growth of visibility of religious communities in the public space. These two processes put into question established certainties, rooted in the substantial homogeneity of the religious and cultural context in which the lives of the majority of the population were carried out. Today’s tensions which mark the different components of religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds of our society are largely a result of these changes. They require careful reflection on the model of the polis which you intend to build.
- These reflections begin with civil society, intended as a place where people and groups, animated by different ideas of life and the world, can meet, get to know each other and face their different life projects and social organisation. Distinct from institutional forums (places of legislation that guarantee democratic rules of society), the civil society is configured as a place of debate and of experimentation, geared towards building a just and participated organization. In order to achieve this goal, it is essential that civil society is free and plural: only in this way can diverse projects and existential and social experiences occur and illustrate that the good of society as a whole may be pursued through different paths. More precisely, the presence inside society of people and groups that, although arising from various cosmologies and values, are engaged in a search for the common good, is fundamental for at least three reasons. First of all this commitment has an educational value, as it produces “civic virtues”, indispensable in forming good citizens that are able to transpose them into the wider State community. In addition, these experiences of the civil society constitute the experimental ground for social organization’s projects to be proposed later to all its members. Finally, a free and plural society helps in the understanding that the common good is not an already acquired fact, but a triumph that matures through encountering differing experiences.
- A State that is inspired by the principles of freedom and democracy does not pretend to create the values that the citizens must share, nor the attitudes that should guide their participation in the life of the polis. It derives instead one and the other from the civil society and combines them within a legal framework, in which different projects to form a just society may coexist. For these reasons, the State has the task to ensure the pluralism of the civil society. This means firstly that it has to respect its plurality, avoiding identification with and support for only one or some realities active in this area; it further means that it should guarantee equal opportunities for expression, as to the conceptions of life and the world that are underlying the different social and cultural experiences within the civil society.
- In this perspective we have to consider the laicization of the State, which does not mean hostility towards religion, but first of all neutrality and impartiality of the public institutions towards the citizens’ religious or non religious choices, ensuring the non-denominationalism of the State and reflecting both the plurality of the present social realities and the unique traditions of each country.
- In the context that we have attempted to outline above, religions, with their very existence, help to strengthen and enrich the value of pluralism in civil society by introducing in public discourse a new question: the question of truth. Many religions, indeed, particularly those which affirm to be founded on a divine revelation – proclaim to be the bearers of a truth that applies to all human beings. This puts a fundamental question, that of the relationship between truth and freedom.
- Social life should be characterised by the free pursuit of the common good: the responsibility for such research is unavoidable, even by those who consider they have discovered the truth about humanity and the world. In order to avoid the escalation of religiously motivated conflicts within a society of increasing religious plurality and visibility, each religion should contribute to the solution by expressing their own spiritual patrimony, translating and debating it in terms understandable by all, accepting the limitations arising from the public and democratic encounter. From this perspective, it is possible to witness unconditionally the truth of one’s own faith, without implying the affirmation of its superiority above all the others and everybody’s duty to accept it. Moreover, religious freedom is grounded on the dignity of the human person: to support it means to affirm that it is possible to participate fully in free and open debate in society, without anyone having to abandon or put in brackets the claim to truth of his own religion or vision of the world.
III.Forms of the public presence
- One of the issues that have aroused more debate in recent years, is that of the religious symbols in a public space. Part of the problem is determined by the fact that the category of religious symbols is extremely complex and diversified. Here we will refer only to the symbols that are worn upon himself by a person (a kippah, a turban, a veil etc.) or are exposed in an institutional seat or in a public place (i.e. a cross hanging on the wall of a public school or a religious image on a street corner).
- The first criterion for dealing with this issue is based on the individual and collective freedom or on a persons’ right to publicly manifest their own identity through a symbol of religious nature. It is of fundamental importance for a democratic society that this right is fully respected in public spaces, and that to it are opposed only general limitations, aimed at protecting safety, health, public order and at ensuring that the use of the symbol is the result of an autonomous and conscious choice and not of an imposition. Within these limitations, the expression of one’s own deepest convictions – even through the use of a symbol – makes the multiplicity of faiths visible. This may also be valid within institutional places, when the symbol is not worn by the representative of the institution, but by the recipients of the services of that institution (think of the students of a school or of the patients of a public hospital).
- The freedom of individuals and groups to exhibit religious symbols can find a further limitation in the performance of public functions in institutional settings, in order to ensure – also visually – impartiality towards all the citizens.
- Within public schools, considering their educational function, impartiality does not automatically imply the elimination of all the symbols. Indeed it is possible to reach a consensus on a local level, in order to decide either the total exclusion or the inclusion of more religious symbols. For example, in many schools we have learned to celebrate the festivities of different religions and to include them in a new educational path.
Places of worship
- The possibility to meet together and perform acts of worship is at the core of the right to religious freedom. It has been dearly earned in Europe, through struggles aimed at affirming, primarily, the right to domestic worship, followed by the right to worship publicly, and to break down the restrictions imposed on religious minorities. Today most European countries ensure to the faithful of any religion, in principle, the right to have its own church, synagogue, mosque, temple or meeting place, with the only limitations being dependent by the regulations of public security.
- The possibility of having a place where to meet together, in order to perform acts of worship, should not depend on the existence of good relationships between a religious group and the public institutions. It descends from the right to religious freedom and thus must be ensured for everybody.
- As every right, also the right to have a public place of worship is not limitless. There are standards to be followed in a religious community that intends to open a place of worship, in order to ensure the safety of the faithful who attend it and the rights of the people who live in the vicinity. Laws and regulations must not be discriminatory in nature. They should be interpreted and applied by the public administration so as to facilitate, rather than hinder, the opening of places of worship and they must be observed by everybody.
- Finally, the fact that – in this as in other fields – the public authorities, furthering the religious needs of their citizens, should not take away the responsibility to build, fund and maintain a place of worship from the same religious communities. Such responsibility constitutes one of the most important measures and expressions of the community, inherent in every religion.
- The school is the place in which children, adolescents and teens, from different linguistic, cultural and religious areas, live daily together. They are united by the fact of being in front of a substantially unitary mode of education. The basic addresses of the school, both public and private, are common and aimed, first of all, at learning principles and concepts shared by all citizens.
- Compulsory education has, as its main task, teaching the necessary knowledge for a positive and conscious inclusion of the new generations in society. The understanding of the fundamental tenets of a plural religious culture is basic knowledge now. This kind of teaching should then be developed at higher levels of education. It is therefore the school’s task to supply, in a non-confessional and culturally grounded manner, the main knowledge related to the most diffuse religious and thought systems present in one’s country. This knowledge should fall, by right, in the sphere of the common course. The school is thus called upon to give its own contribution, in order to educate all pupils, whatever their origin and religious affiliation, a respect for the principles of religious freedom established by the Italian Constitution.
- It is appropriate that, in the context of school autonomy, they open up spaces, identified by stakeholders (teachers, pupils, families), in order to activate forms of knowledge and mutual comparison among the different confessional components present in a given reality. In the public school it should also be possible for parents and pupils to ask the school institution to create courses carried out by members of the different religions. These teachings must also be marked by a setting of a cultural nature, consistent with the aims of the school and free from any attitude or catechetical proselytizing.
- In regard to private schools with religious orientation, the need to provide the basic elements of a pluralistic religious culture should be emphasized and, at the same time, they must be guaranteed the right to issue their own confessional religious education.
Hospitals and Prisons
- Places exist – think of the prisons and hospitals – where, for different reasons, people are obliged to reside, sometimes for a long period: their freedom is limited and these limits may reduce the possibility to practice one’s own religion. This is the reason why, since centuries, churches and religious communities care about ensuring detainees and patients the spiritual assistance they request, through their own representatives.
- It is also the task of the public authorities to ensure respect for the right to spiritual assistance and to facilitate the practical implementation, through the access of accredited representatives of the religious communities, to prisons and hospitals. Above this basic level it may be appropriate to ensure, inside the institution, a stable presence of representatives of a religion, when this is necessary because of the number of followers of that religion who reside in the prison or hospital. In this case it will be good practice that the costs of this stable presence are covered by the religious organization concerned (rather than by public funds).
- Finally, it is incumbent that managers, social workers and any assistants present in the public institutions (prisons, hospitals, etc.) report requests from the faithful to the religious authorities of the latter.
Funeral and Burial
- One of the traditions in which the faithful are taking more interest, is the burial of the dead, according to the rites and ceremonies of farewell of their own religion and in a land that harbors their symbols. This possibility cannot be withheld when there are no grounds of denial of a medical nature or of public order. On request it can be possible to grant religious communities which, by number of followers have the need, a portion of the municipal cemetery for the burial of their faithful. It is equally important that there are suitable places prepared for the funeral ceremonies of members of different religions or people interested in religious funerals.
Through the Ten points of the Charter of Milan 2013 and Exploring the debate, the Forum of Religions in Milan hopes to contribute to a useful comparison among different components of civil society, of which communities and religious organizations are part, as well as among the institutions that govern democratic administration and public governance. It is the perspective of a democratic society to demand that all its components can enrich it with their own values and, at the same time, do not pretend privileges or prevarication.
In this sense, the religious bodies that adhere to the Forum propose the Charter of Milan 2013, in the knowledge that vigilance is needed, both on their part and on the part of public institutions, because the presence of religions in society is humble and constructive, always in service of the human person and the common good, in the public interest of the democratic State, understood as “the home of all”.
FORUM delle RELIGIONI a MILANO
Corso di Porta Ticinese, 33