IV. 1. There are various traditions of interpretation of rights and freedoms and national peculiarities in implementing them. The modern system of human rights is widely accepted and has a tendency for even greater specification. There is no commonly accepted classification of rights and freedoms. Various legal schools unite them in groups according to various criteria. The Church, by virtue of her basic calling, suggests considering rights and freedoms in the perspective of their possible role in creating favorable external conditions for the improvement of personality on its way to salvation.

IV. 2. The right to life. Life is a gift of God to human beings. The Lord Jesus Christ preaches: ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (Jn. 10:10). God gave the Prophet Moses a commandment that ‘you shall not kill’. Orthodoxy does not accept terrorism and condemns it, as armed aggression and criminal violence just as all other forms of the criminal taking away of human life.

At the same time, life is not restricted to temporal limits in which the secular worldview and its legal system place the individual. Christianity testifies that temporal life, precious in itself, acquires fullness and absolute meaning in the perspective of eternal life. Priority therefore should be given not to the efforts to preserve temporal life by all means but to the desire to order it in such a way as to enable people to work together with God for preparing their souls for eternity.

The Word of God teaches that giving one’s earthly life for Christ and the gospel (cf. Mk. 8:35) and for other people will not hamper one’s salvation but, quite to the contrary, will lead one to the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Jn. 15:13). The Church honours the feat of martyrs who served God even to death and the feat of confessors who refused to renounce Him in face of persecutions and threats. Orthodox Christians also honour the heroism of those who gave their lives in battlefield fighting for their homeland and neighbours.

At the same time the Church condemns suicide since those who commit it do not sacrifice themselves but reject life as a gift of God. In this connection the Church cannot accept the legalization of so-called euthanasia, that is, assistance given to those who wish to die, which is actually a combination of murder and suicide.

The right to life should imply the protection of a human life from the moment of its conception. Any intrusion in the life of a developing human personality is a violation of this right. Modern international and national legal acts seal and protect the life and rights of the child, adult and senior citizen. The same logic of human life protection should be applied to the period of life from its conception to birth. The Biblical idea of the God-given value of human life from the moment of its conception is expressed in particular in the words of the holy King David:

‘For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them’ (Ps. 139:13, 15-16).

While admitting that the death penalty was acceptable in the Old Testament time and there are no instruction to abolish it ‘either in the Holy Scripture of the New Testament or in the Tradition or in the historical legacy of the Orthodox Church’, we cannot but recall that

‘the Church has often taken upon herself the duty of intercession for those condemned to death, asking mercy or mitigation of punishment for them’ (The Russian Orthodox Church’s Basic Social Concept, IX. 3).

Defending human life, the Church, whatever society’s attitude to death penalty may be, is called to fulfill this duty of intercession.

IV. 3. Freedom of conscience. The individual can see the gift of freedom of choice first of all in the opportunity for him to choose particular philosophical guidelines for his life. As St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes,

‘God made man free from the beginning, possessing his own power <…> to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by God’s compulsion’ (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 37).

The principle of freedom of conscience is in harmony with God’s will if it protects the individual against any arbitrary treatment of his inner world, against any forcible imposition of particular convictions upon him. It is not without reason that the Russian Orthodox Church’s Basic Social Concept speaks of the need

‘to preserve for the individual a certain autonomous space where his conscience remains the absolute master, for it is on the free will that salvation or death, the way towards Christ or away from Christ will ultimately depend’ (IV, 6).

In a secular state, the freedom of conscience, proclaimed and confirmed by law, enables the Church to preserve her identity and independence from people of other convictions and gives her a legal ground both for the immunity of her internal life and public witness to the Truth. At the same time,

‘the freedom of conscience asserted as a legal principle points to the fact that society has lost religious goals and values’ (BSC, III, 6).

The freedom of conscience is sometimes treated as requiring religious neutrality or (?) indifference of a state and society. Some ideological interpretations of religious freedom insist on the need to recognize all the faiths as relative or ‘equally true’. This is inacceptable for the Church which, while respecting the freedom of choice, is called to bear witness to the Truth she cherishes and to expose its misinterpretations (cf. Tim. 3:15).

A society has the right to determine freely the content and amount of cooperation the state should maintain with various religious communities depending on their strength, traditional presence in a particular country or region, contribution to the history and culture of the country and on their civil attitude. At the same time, there must be equality of citizens before law regardless of their attitude to religion. The principle of freedom of conscience does not present an obstacle for partnership relations between the Church and the state in social, educational or any other socially significant activities.

The freedom of conscience cannot be used to establish total control over the life and beliefs of the individual, to destroy his private, family and social morality, to insult his religious feelings, to encroach on things he holds sacred, to damage his spiritual and cultural identity as all this distorts its very essence.

IV. 4. The freedom of expression. The freedom of thoughts and feelings, which presupposes the possibility for disseminating information, is a natural continuation of the freedom of ideological choice. The word is a principal means of communication between people and God and among one another. The content of communication has a serious impact on the well-being of the person and interpersonal relations in a society. The individual bears a special responsibility for his words. ‘By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned’ (Mt. 12:37) says Holy Scriptures. Public statements and declarations should not further the propagation of sin or generate strife and disorder in society. The word should create and support the good. It is especially dangerous to insult religious and national feelings, to distort information about the life of particular religious communities, nations, social groups and personalities. Responsibility for words has grown manifold in the modern world as it experiences a rapid development of the technologies of storing and disseminating information.

IV. 5. The freedom of creative work. Human creative ability is essentially a manifestation of God’s image in the human being. The Church blesses creative work as it opens up new horizons for the spiritual growth of the individual and for his knowledge of the created world. Called to help reveal the potential of the personality, creative work should not justify any nihilistic attitude to culture, religion and morality. The right to self-expression for an individual or a group should not be implemented in forms insulting for the beliefs and ways of life of other members of society, and one of the main principles of communal life, namely, mutual respect for various worldview groups should be observed.

Sacrilege towards holy things cannot be justified by references to the rights of an artist, writer or journalist. Modern law normally protects not only people’s life and property but also symbolical values, such as the memory of the dead, burial places, historical and cultural monuments and national symbols. This protection should be applied to the faith and things held sacred by religious people.

IV. 6. The right to education. The goal of a person’s temporal life is to seek the likeness of God by means of virtue. Education is a means of not only learning or incorporating a person in the life of society, but also forming his personality in accordance with the design of the Creator. The right to education presupposes learning that takes into account the cultural traditions of society and the worldview of the individual and his family. As most of the world cultures are based on religion, the comprehensive education and formation of a person should include the teaching of knowledge about the religion that has created the culture in which this person lives. At the same time, his freedom of conscience should be respected.

IV. 7. Civil and political rights. Holy Scriptures instructs the faithful to fulfill their family and socially important obligations as obedience to Christ (cf. Lk. 10-14; Eph. 5:23-33; Tit. 3:1). St. Paul made use of his rights as Roman citizen on more than one occasion in order to preach the Word of God. Civil and political rights offer the individual an ample opportunity for effective service of his neighbour. Using this instrument, a citizen can make an influence on the life of society and participate in governing the state. It is on the way in which an individual uses his right to elect and to be elected, to join freely an association or a union, to use freedom of expression and beliefs that the welfare of a society depends.

The use of political and civil rights should not lead to divisions and enmity. The Orthodox tradition of conciliarity implies the preservation of the social unity on the basis of intransient moral values. The Church calls upon people to restrain their egoistic desires for the sake of the common good.

The peoples under the spiritual care of the Russian Orthodox Church have developed in their history a fruitful idea of the need for cooperation between the authorities and people. Political rights can make a valid contribution to these state-society relations. To achieve this end, civil interests should have a real representation on various levels of power and opportunities for civil action should be ensured.

People’s private life, worldview and will should not become a subject of total control. Any manipulation over people’s choice and their conscience by power structures, political forces and economic and media elites is dangerous for a society. Such things as compilation, concentration and use of information about any aspect of people’s life without their consent are also inadmissible. Information about a person can be collected without his or her consent only in cases where it is required for the defense of the homeland, preservation of morality, protection of people’s health, rights and legitimate interests or the need to investigate a crime and to exercise justice. But in these cases too, information may be collected and used in conformity with the stated aims and in accordance with law. The methods of collecting and processing information about people should not hurt the dignity of a person, restrict his freedom or turn him from a subject of public relations into an object of machine operation. The adoption of technical devices accompanying a person permanently or inseparable from his body will be even more dangerous for human freedom if used to control his personality.

IV. 8. Socio-economic rights. A person’s earthly life is impossible without having his material needs satisfied. The Book of Acts tells the story of the first Christian community in which the level of material care for its members was especially high (cf. Acts 4:32-37; 6:1-6). The right usage of material wealth does matter in the cause of salvation. It is necessary therefore to give a clear moral dimension to such rights and freedoms as the right to property, the right to employment, the right to protection against an employer’s arbitrary treatment, the freedom of enterprise and the right to dignified living standards.

The exercise of economic rights should not lead to the formation of such a society in which the use of material wealth is turned into a dominating or even the only aim of a society’s existence. One of the purposes of economic and social rights is to prevent confrontational stratification of a society. Such stratification is contrary to the commandment to love one’s neighbor. It creates conditions for the moral degradation of both society and the individual, generates the feeling of alienation between people and violates the principle of justice.

A society has as its important responsibility to take care of those who are unable to secure their material needs. Access to education and vital medical care should not depend on the social or economic status of a person.

IV. 9. Collective rights. ­ The rights of an individual should not be destructive for the unique way of life and traditions of the family and for various religious, national and social communities. God has laid down in human nature the desire of a human being to share in communal life (cf. Gen. 2:18). In the fulfillment of God’s will for the unity of the human race, an important role belongs to various forms of communal life realized in national, public and social associations, while it is in the Church, the divine-human organism, that God’s commandment of love for God and the neighbour is fully revealed (cf. Mt. 22:37-39).

Communal life begins in the family. For this reason St. Paul speaks of the family’s participation in the Mystery of the Church (cf. Eph. 5:23-33). It is in his family that a person gains an experience of love for God and his neighbour. It is through the family that religious traditions, social way of life and national culture of a society are handed down. The modern law should view the family as the lawful union of man and woman in which natural conditions for raising children are created. Law is also called to respect the family as an integral organism and to protect it against destruction provoked by moral decay. In safeguarding the rights of the child, the legal system should not deny his parents a special role in his education, which is inseparable from their worldview and religious experience.

It is necessary to respect other collective rights as well, such as the right to peace, the right to the environment, the right to preservation of cultural heritage and internal norms regulating the life of various communities.

Unity and inter-connection between civil and political, economic and social, individual and collective human rights can promote a harmonious order of societal life both on the national and international level. The social value and effectiveness of the entire human rights system depend on the extent to which it helps to create conditions for personal growth in the God-given dignity and relates to the responsibility of a person for his actions before God and his neighbours.