Resources on Faith, Ethics and Public Life

Dignitatis Humanae (On the Dignity of the Human Person – Declaration on Religious Freedom)

December 7, 1965

Dignitatis Humanae, one of the most significant documents issued by the Second Vatican Council, declares that all persons are to be free from coercion in matters concerning religious belief and worship, so that they may seek the truth in a manner befitting their human dignity. The state oversteps its authority when it coerces compliance with or inhibits the free practice of a particular religion by its citizens. Christians in particular are exhorted to respect religious freedom as a human right, as the encyclical declares that coercion is fundamentally antithetical to Christian belief and tradition. This endorsement of religious liberty and freedom of conscience represents a marked departure from previous papal encyclicals, particularly those of Popes Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X. The rise of democracy and the need for increased cooperation among diverse social groups in post-war Europe necessitated a new outlook on church-state relations.

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