A Primer on the Rights and Wrongs of Proselytism

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

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper

9 Pages Posted: 26 May 2011 Last revised: 14 Jan 2020

See all articles by John Witte

John Witte

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: 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.

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

Suggested Citation

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

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Emory University School of Law ( email )

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