Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Role of the Christian Religion in its development


This site explains the role of Christianity in the development of the concept of human rights, with specific reference to the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Following a preamble, the Declaration sets out 30 Articles, reproduced below on the left hand side, along with a commentary on the right.

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


This is contrary to traditional Christian teaching, which holds that not everyone is borne free and that some have more legal rights than others..

For example, under the avowedly God-given feudal system, explicitly sanctioned by the Church, most people were born into serfdom. Again, under cannon law ("God's Law") illegitimate children suffered numerous legal disabilities.

For women the position was even worse. For many centuries almost all females in Christendom were literally owned by their fathers, husbands or other male relatives (if not by slave masters). It is notable that women enjoyed much greater freedom and many more legal rights in under the Greeks and Romans in pre-Christian times, and that these rights were gradually removed by a programme of Christianisation over many centuries during the Dark Ages. Click here for more on Christianity and its traditional antipathy to Women's Rights

For slaves the position was worse still. The bible clearly sanctioned the idea that people could be born into slavery, and the Church sanctioned slave owning for many centuries. The children of slaves belonged in Christian law not to their parents but to their parents' owners. Click here for more on Christianity and its traditional attachment to Slavery

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.


The Christian Church has traditionally discriminated against people on most of the grounds listed here.

Specifically, it has discriminated on the grounds of race and skin colour (against non-whites), sex (against women), religion (all regions outside specific Christian sects), political opinion (eg against socialists and communists), and social origin & property (practising nepotism and discriminating in favour of nobles and churchmen), and birth (eg denying rights to illegitimate children.

Click here for more on how Christianity has discriminated on racial grounds.

Click here for more on how Christianity has discriminated against women.

Click below for more on how Christianity has discriminated against and persecuted:

Click here for more on how Christianity has discriminated on political grounds.

Click here for more on how Christianity has discriminated on the grounds of social origin.

Click here for more on how Christianity has discriminated on the grounds of birth.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.


These rights were unknown during 1500 years of Christian hegemony, when Popes and Bishops could kill, imprison and execute their enemies without any form of redress, and often without even the flimsiest pretence of a fair trial.

Well into recent times the Churches have promoted the death penalty, denying the right to life. Many still do.

Life: Click here for more on Christianity and its traditional views on Capital Punishment.

Liberty & Security of Person: Click here for more on Christianity and its traditional views on punishment and penal reform.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.


As mainstream Christians pointed out for many centuries, slavery was not merely permitted by God, it was positively enjoined by God. To oppose slavery was therefore to oppose the will of God. Churchmen themselves owned slaves. As Clergymen pointed out the manumition of Church slaves was impossible: these slaves belonged to God, and so only God could authorise their freedom.

Click here for more on Christianity and its traditional attachment to Slavery

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


The Church not only used torture itself, in many European countries it reintroduced torture after it had been abolished.

A famous letter from a Pope to King Edward II of England expresses outrage that the English common law did not allow torture to be used.

Click here for more on Christianity and its traditional attachment to torture and to other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments and punishments

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.


Christianity taught that not everyone was recognised by the law. Just as an Outlaw was not recognised by the Civil Law, so anyone excommunicated was not recognised by Ecclesiastical law.

Again, married women had no recourse to the law, since the Church held that a woman's legal personality was subsumed into her husband's.

Yet again, Church law did not recognise the existance of certain categories of people. For example atheists, dissenters and members of other religions could not make wills, marry, .give evidence in court, hold public office, be represented in the legislature.

Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.


As has already been shown, not all were equal before the law, nor did everyone enjoy equal protection of the law.

To take the most blatent example, the Church insisted that the ordinary law did not apply to Churchmen. (Thomas Becket's disagreement with Henry II was based on exactly this point - that Church law required discrimination between Churchmen and laymen)

Among the minorities who did not enjoy the full protection of the law in Christian times were: slaves, women, children, excommunicants, pagans, moslems, Jews, heretics, blasphemers, apostates, the mentally ill, outlaws and leppers.

Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.


Since people did not enjoy any fundamental rights - a concept alien to the Christian Church - the question of legal remedies did not arise.

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.


Under the Christian hegemony, pretty much everyone other than the highest nobles were subject to arbitrary arrest, detention and exile.

The concept of habeas corpus was and still is unknown to Cannon Law.

Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.


Under Cannon Law, cases were (and still are) heard in camera. There was not merely an assumption of guilt of the accused, but often an irrefutable presumption of guilt - it was for example a crime to be merely suspected of heresy. Tribunals were almost never, if ever, independent or impartial (Clerical Judges often stood to benefit personally from sequestered goods).

Click here for more on Christianity and its traditional idea of what constituted a fair judicial hearing.

Article 11

1. Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.


As indicated above the right to public trial and the presumption of innocence were unknown to Ecclesiastical law.

There were none of the normal guarantees of a proper defense - for example there was no right to hear the charges, no right to examine prosecution witnesses or even to know their identities, and no right to legal representation. Judges also acted as juries and persecutors.

2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Cannon Law has never acknowledged any problem with retrospective legislation.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.


During the Christian hegemony the Church was free to interfere in all aspects of private life, Notable examples are:
Obligatory Church membership
Compulsory Confession
No right to education
Strict sexual controls
Dietary restrictions
Strict control over books
Theatre and film censorship

Article 13

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.


Under the Church sponsored feudal system, most people did not enjoy freedom of movement.

Under the Church sponsored feudal system, most people did not enjoy freedom of movement.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

These rights did not generally exist within Christendom.

Article 14

1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.


The Church did allow a right of sanctuary inherited from Roman Law and significantly watered down.

2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.



Article 15

1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.


This is a concept unknown to Ecclesiastical Law.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Although the Church traditionally had no concept of nationality, it did have a concept of feudal allegiance. Under this concept it was not permissable for anyone to change their allegiance, since their vassal status was sanctioned by God.

Article 16

1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.


Men and women often did not enjoy the right to marry or to found a family.

Examples include young boys sent to monasteries for life and girls sent convents for life, and boys castrated to provide singers for church choirs. For many centuries, whenever they could, Churches prohibited marriage outside their own particular sect. Marriage between Christians and Jews often incurred capital penalties.

2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

Child marriages and other forced marriages were common for well over 1000 years under Christian hegemony.

3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Contrary to the views now encouraged by the Christian Churches, Christianity has traditionally been hostile to family values. As Christians never tired of pointing out, Jesus himself insisted that his followers should hate their families. Click here for more on Christianity and Family Values.

Article 17

1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.


As property themselves Christian serfs and slaves could not themselves own property.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Church law allowed, and it could be argued positively encouraged, the sequestration of property. In some cases property was seized from people on the grounds that their ancestors had committed crimes.

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.


The Christian Churches have historically opposed all three of these freedoms.

For many centuries the Churches held that all knowledge was contained in the bible, and that consequently research and original thought were satanic. People's beliefs - political, social and religious - were determined at birth in Christendom by the dominant religious confession. It was a crime to teach, or even to hold, any other faith.

Everyone dissenting from the dominant religious confession risked imprisonment, torture and death. Victims included apostates, "blasphemers", "pagans", converts to Judaism, Islam or other religions, Gnostics, Ebionites, Cathars, Waldensians, Hussites, Lollards, and members of thousands of other sects. The Established Churches were trying to enforce sectarian uniformity well into the twentieth century.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


These freedoms did not exist under the Christian hegemony, and were specifically denied.

Popes were still fulminating against freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and freedom of the press well into the nineteenth century, and maintained an Index of prohibbitted books well into the twentieth. Even in the twenty first century clergyment and theologians are not free to express their opinions freely.

Churches have also prohibitted the free exchange of ideas through censorship of plays, films, videos, art and other media.

Click here for more on Christianity, its record of censorship and opposition to the principle of freedom of expression.

Article 20

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.


This is a right unknown to traditional Christianity. Non Christians generally had no right to life, let alone rights such as this. Even Christians enjoyed such rights only if they belonged to an approved sect.

2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Religions are cearly associations, and many Churches have tried to enforce membership. According to the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and many other Churches baptism makes people, including infant childeren, members for life.

Article 21

1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.


This right did not exist under the Christian hegemony. The only people eligable to take part in government were the beneficiaries of the Church sponsored feudal system - including popes, patriarchs, cardinals, primates, metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, abbots and priors.

2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.

The idea of public services, popular in classical pagan times, dwindled and perished in the Dark Ages under the Christian hegemony. The idea of such services - libraries, theatres, schools, public hospitals, sports grounds, police, baths, and so on were revived as the power of the Church diminished during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The idea of people having equal access (for example irrespective of their religion) is a characteristicly secular humanist concept.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.


The will of the people played no part in the selection of any government in any juristiction under CHristian control. Citing biblical texts, all Churches taught that all governors were appointed by God. So it was that Popes, Emperors, Bishops and Kings were all divinely appointed. To claim otherwise was both treason and blasphemy. The ideas of genuine elections, universal suffrage, and sectret votes in national elections were all opposed by all mainstream Churches until long after they were established.

Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.



Article 23

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.


No such rights existed anywhere that the Christian Church held power.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

No such rights existed anywhere that the Christian Church held power.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

No such rights existed anywhere that the Christian Church held power.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

No such rights existed anywhere that the Christian Church held power.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.


No such rights existed anywhere that the Christian Church held power.

Article 25

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.


No such rights existed anywhere that the Christian Church held power.

The ideas of unemployment benefit, old age pensions, disabilty benefit, etc are all characteristicly secular humanist ideas pioneered by people like Thomas Paine.

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

The only states afforded special recognistion under Christianity were Clerical Ordination and virginity. New mothers were regarded as sinners, requiring a purification ceremony ("The Churching of Women") before being allowed back into the Christian community.

It was Cannon Law, rather than Civil or Common Law that enforced discrimination against those born out of wedlock.

Article 26

1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.


With a few notable exceptions, the Christian Church enjoyed a monopoly of teaching and learning in Europe for well over 1,000 years. During this time the bishops and abbots licensed all teaching, with the result that education was restricted to clerical candidates and rich families.

During the middle ages it became a criminal offence for laymen to own or to attempt to read the Bible. The Churches violently opposed the introduction in the nineteenth century of free, secular, and universal education.

2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Historically, the prime purpose of education according to the Christian Churches has been indoctrination. Where education was permitted at all it was not directed at the development of personality and the idea of respect for human rights and fundamental was demonised, if it was considered at all.

The whole purpose of education under the Christian hegemony was to perpetrate and strengthen the prevailing Christian system of belief. For many centuries there was not the slightest interest in genuine education, let alone promoting understanding, tolerance or friendship among nations or between racial or religious groups, just as there was no interest in research or original thinking.

3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Since parents had no right to have their children educated, and risked punishment if they tried to educate them themselves, this question did not arise.

Article 27

1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.


No such rights existed under the Christian hegenomy.

All arts were either banned or restricted to religious themes - eg painting restricted to Biblical stories, theatre restricted to Mystery Plays, Singing restricted to religious worship.

Any attempts at advancing science was likely to invite accusations of heresy, eg Friar Bacon, Paracelsus, Da Vinci, Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, and thousands of other astronomers, alchemists, herbalists, anatomists, and other scientists - even philosophers and mathematicians.

2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

This right was unknown to the Christian world until modern secular societies introduced concepts like copyright and intellectual property rights.

Article 28

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.



Article 29

1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.



2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

Christian Churches have sought to restrict all manner of rights and freedoms. Among the many activities they have restricted or prohibbeted have been freedom or worship, free speech, scientific endevour, sex, eating meat, drinking alcohol, reading and writing, painting, sport, gambling, entertainment and education.

Click here for more on Christianity, its record of opposition to and control of various types of ordinary enjoyments.

3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.


Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.