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A Primer on the Rights and Wrongs of Proselytism

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law


Cumberland Law Review, Vol. 31, pp. 619-629, 2001

The modern human rights revolution has catalyzed a great awakening of religion around the globe. But it has also created a new “war for souls” between Western religions and local religious groups, many of them trying to recover from decades of political oppression. Particularly Orthodox Christians in the former Soviet bloc and Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa have resented the sudden rise of a Western marketplace of religious ideas, and have turned to the state to impose new restrictions on foreigners. They have also highlighted the sharp differences between Western voluntarist views of religious conversion that feature easy-in/easy-out religion and non-Western views that tie religious identity and practice to blood, soil, and family. After surveying the juxtaposed free exercise rights of proselytizers and the liberty of conscience claims by proselytizees, this Article advocates self-restraint and respect on the part of foreign proselytizing faiths, even a moratorium for a time. It also encourages local Orthodox, Muslim, and other groups, who see conversion out of their faith as a capital crime of apostasy, to adopt milder measures of ostracism and communal self-protection as some of their earlier thinkers had advocated.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 12

Keywords: Proselytism; Evangelism; Missionaries; Human Rights; Religious Freedom; Liberty of Conscience; Conversion; Apostasy; Russian Orthodox Church; Islam; Western Christianity

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Date posted: May 26, 2011 ; Last revised: October 3, 2014

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, A Primer on the Rights and Wrongs of Proselytism (2001). Cumberland Law Review, Vol. 31, pp. 619-629, 2001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1851125

Contact Information

John Witte Jr. (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)

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