Religious Freedom Awards 2021 honours three women in the field of state church law in Spain
The Foundation for the Improvement of Life, Culture and Society, in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations since 2019, and founded by the Church of Scientology in 2015, was in charge of presenting these pioneering awards in Spain, which have now reached their 8th edition.
The event, organised by the Church of Scientology Fundacion MEJORA, was held in person and via streaming. It was attended by experts and professors in religious freedom, and staff of the General Subdirectorate of Religious Freedom of the Ministry of Presidency, including its director Ms. Mercedes Murillo, who congratulated the Foundation, and the award winners Ms. Zoila Combalía, Ms. Mercedes Vidal and Ms. Isabel Cano. Representatives of the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation and the Baha’i Community of Spain also participated.
At the ceremony presented by Ivan Arjona (President of the Foundation) and Isabel Ayuso, (Secretary General of the Foundation), Prof. Mercedes Murillo said, “Thank you Ivan, as always, so committed to everything, to your work and well, congratulations also to the Church of Scientology of Spain for a new edition of these awards and for the correct choice of the people who have been recognized tonight.
Murillo said of the award winners: “They are three great professionals in the area of state ecclesiastical law … and I have also had the opportunity and the good fortune to work with all three of them. I know their worth, their merits and of course they are absolutely deserving of this recognition. Three women, moreover, who have been working in this field for some time and I think it is also very important to highlight this loyalty… in an area that is probably not the most popular within the university sphere, but which I believe does important and significant work in the field of respect for and protection of human rights. So, congratulations to the three of them. Zoila, Mercedes and Isabel”.
Ivan Arjona, who is also President of the Church of Scientology’s European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights, which represents Scientologists and the methods of social betterment developed by L. Ron Hubbard before European institutions and the United Nations, stated that:
“It is necessary to make society aware that this freedom is vital to any other of the fundamental rights that we have, because any other rights that we are born with are always touched by the right to freedom of conscience, of belief, in one way or another, whether it is religious belief or non-religious belief.”
For her part, Isabel Ayuso, who is a lawyer specialized on criminal law and Secretary General of the Fundación Mejora, stated that:
“It is an honour for the Foundation that you join us in this event…. We live in a society that seems to me to be politically correct, where one cannot say what one thinks, but has to think what one says…. that’s why I think your work, your research is so important […] I don’t want to tell you all the work that still needs to be done, but I do want to recognise once again the value of the work you do, and that it is the only thing that serves as a kind of retaining wall against all these outbreaks against freedom in general and against freedom of belief, because it is the most nuclear part of the human being”.
The three winners, this year three women, thanked the Fundación Mejora and its directors for continuing with these awards, which they consider so necessary in the society in which we live.
The first to receive the Tizona of these Religious Freedom Awards 2021, was Zoila Combalía, Full Professor of Religious Freedom Law, Universidad de Zaragoza, (and presented by Prof. Rafael Valencia of the Universidad de Sevilla). In her acceptance speech, she made it clear that she has:
“firm believe in religious freedom as the cornerstone of coexistence in today’s society, but even from a less idealistic perspective, from a purely pragmatic perspective, religious freedom is fundamental for coexistence in today’s society. […] we live in a plural society in religious matters and not only because we live together in the same country, people of different beliefs and convictions, but also because our coexistence is no longer only with our neighbours, but also increasingly for legal, economic, political, social, etc. purposes, we coexist with people from all over the world […] therefore, faced with these contexts of growing diversity and intercultural, religious coexistence, the question that arises is, how do we articulate this coexistence? That is to say, how do we coexist peacefully with people of different beliefs or none at all? … The key lies in the law, in respect for the right to freedom of religion and belief. Thus, religious freedom today is no longer just … a requirement of the dignity of the person … but demands the ability to seek the truth in freedom, not to be forced to act against one’s conscience and not to be discriminated against because of one’s beliefs. Religious freedom is the only way to live peacefully together in today’s society, a right more necessary than ever, and yet it is becoming a right … denigrated and endangered. … it has gone from being considered the first of the freedoms … to being today a right subject to some bullying, a right under suspicion. […] working for religious freedom will lead us to a society in which those values which, in the opinion of Alfonso X the Wise symbolised by the sword, prevail: sanity, fortitude, moderation and justice”.
For her part, and after a just and endearing presentation by Prof. Alejandro Torres (University of Navarra), Mercedes Vidal, Professor of State Ecclesiastical Law, University of Valladolid, who received the second award of the evening, emphasised that:
[“…] These awards … are of particular significance, since initiatives such as those carried out by this foundation have already become a point of reference for a society such as ours, a plural and diverse society from the point of view of religious freedom. … The governments of Western Europe … are aware of this reality and in recent years have been developing a series of strategies to meet the demands and needs of the different religious groups. And all these strategies revolve around a central axis, which is the respect, guarantee and protection of religious diversity.” Furthermore, Prof. Vidal continued, “Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not only recognises the right of everyone to freedom of thought, ideas and beliefs, but this right also includes the freedom to change one’s beliefs or religion, and to manifest them outwardly, either individually or collectively, whether in public or in private. … Our own Magna Carta, our Constitution, in article 16 recognises religious freedom as a fundamental right. And furthermore, it establishes public order as the only limit to its manifestation […] it is clear that respect for and guarantee of the different religious options is in no case a mere alternative for the public authorities, but rather becomes an essential pillar of their action. […] only by accepting that the beliefs of others (and even the absence of beliefs, whether religious or non-religious) are as legitimate as our own beliefs, only in this way, by accepting this reality, can we move towards a scenario where religious freedom is truly recognised and guaranteed. […] the task of recognising diversity must be approached from different fronts: legislative, institutional and educational… to train and raise awareness of diversity at different levels…”.
The last award of the evening was presented by Prof. Catalina Pons-Estel (University of the Balearic Islands) and went to Isabel Cano, Professor of State Ecclesiastical Law, University of Alcala de Henares, who told the audience that:
“Religious freedom is a freedom of freedoms, since it refers to the most radical sign and act of man as a rational being, nothing more and nothing less than the act of faith. […] Globalisation and the constant use of social networks and electronic devices are putting people in constant contact with human beings from different places, many of whom present their own traits and identities and particularities that are a sign of the richness and variety of spiritual attitudes of today’s citizens. […] Cervantes said “he who walks a lot and reads a lot, sees a lot and knows a lot”. To know a lot in a world where freedom of the press would not exist until centuries later was a very hard burden, Spanish society in Cervantes’ time being more oppressive of intellectuals than of criminals. […] diversity is a factor inherent in today’s society, with multiple manifestations, and the religious sphere is no stranger to this variety of expressions. In just a few years Spain has gone from being a monochrome country in religious matters to a country with a varied polychromy in terms of spiritual options. […] One of the characteristics of students of ecclesiastical State law is that while most of the rest of the criminal, civil and constitutional law subjects are almost completely unknown when they arrive at university, in our subject, students usually arrive with a preconceived idea or with a series of prejudices that will need to be polished in order to be able to interpret the issues raised in truly technical juridical terms…. and to achieve in them a legal sensitivity such as that demonstrated by Professor Combalía” and that “the student, as a general rule”, arrives with “tweeted journalistic information on certain aspects of religious freedom. […] From here my eternal affection to all of you and above all to my students”.