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Citizens’ Rights

What Rights Do Citizens Have in A Democracy?

Everyone Has Basic Human Rights that the State Cannot Take Away

In a democracy, every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away
from them. These rights are internationally recognized and guaranteed. Everyone has the
right to have their own beliefs, including their religious beliefs, and to say and write what
they think. Everyone has the right to seek different sources of information and ideas.
Everyone has the right to associate with other people, and to form and join organizations of
their own choice, including trade unions. Everyone has the right to assemble and to protest
government actions. However, citizens have an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully,
with respect for the law and for the rights of others.

5. What is Democracy?

Government authority flows from the people and is based upon their consent.

Democracy is a system of government in which a country’s political leaders

are chosen by the people in regular, free, and fair elections. In a democracy, people
have a choice between different candidates and parties who want the power to
govern. The people can criticize and replace their elected leaders and representatives
if they do not perform well. The people are sovereign—they are the highest
authority—and government is based on the will of the people. Elected representatives
at the national and local levels must listen to the people and be responsive to their

7. Participation

What is the Role of the Citizen in a Democracy?

Citizens participate in public affairs, with respect for different points of view.

The key role of citizens in a democracy is participation. This takes many

forms. Citizens have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to
monitor the conduct of their leaders and representatives, and to express their own
opinions. Participation also involves voting in elections, debating issues, attending
community meetings, becoming involved in private, voluntary organizations, and
even protesting. However, political participation in a democracy must be peaceful,
respectful of the law, and tolerant of the different views of other groups and
8. What is the Rule of Law?

Laws and Procedures Apply Fairly and Equally to All Citizens

Democracy is a system of rule by laws, not individuals. In a democracy, the

rule of law protects the rights of citizens, maintains order, and limits the power of
government. All citizens are equal under the law. No one may be discriminated
against on the basis of their race, religion, ethnic group, or gender. No one may be
arrested, imprisoned, or exiled arbitrarily. No one may be denied their freedom
without a fair and public hearing by an impartial court. No one may be taxed or
prosecuted except by a law established in advance. No one is above the law, not even
a king or an elected president. The law is fairly, impartially, and consistently
enforced, by courts that are independent of the other branches of government.

Building good relations with people of

different faiths and beliefs
In Britain today, people of many different faiths and beliefs live side by side. The opportunity
lies before us to work together to build a society rooted in the values we treasure.

But this society can only be built on a sure foundation of mutual respect, openness and trust.
This means finding ways to live our lives of faith with integrity, and allowing others to do
so too.

Our different religious traditions offer us many resources for this and teach us the
importance of good relationships characterised by honesty, compassion and generosity of
spirit. The Inter Faith Network offers the following code of conduct for encouraging and
strengthening these relationships.

As members of the human family, we should show each other respect and courtesy. In our
dealings with people of other faiths and beliefs this means exercising good will and:

 respecting other people's freedom within the law to express their beliefs and
 learning to understand what others actually believe and value, and letting them
express this in their own terms
 respecting the convictions of others about food, dress and social etiquette and not
behaving in ways which cause needless offence
 recognising that all of us at times fall short of the ideals of our own traditions and
never comparing our own ideals with other people's practices
 working to prevent disagreement from leading to conflict
 always seeking to avoid violence in our relationships
When we talk about matters of faith with one another, we need to do so with sensitivity,
honesty and straightforwardness. This means:

 recognising that listening as well as speaking is necessary for a genuine conversation

 being honest about our beliefs and religious allegiances
 not misrepresenting or disparaging other people's beliefs and practices
 correcting misunderstanding or misrepresentations not only of our own but also of
other faiths whenever we come across them
 being straightforward about our intentions
 accepting that in formal inter-faith meetings, there is a particular responsibility to
ensure that the religious commitment of all those who are present will be respected

All of us want others to understand and respect our views. Some people will also want to
persuade others to join their faith. In a multi faith society where this is permitted, the attempt
should always be characterised by self-restraint and a concern for the other's freedom and
dignity. This means:

 respecting another person's expressed wish to be left alone

 avoiding imposing ourselves and our views on individuals or communities who are in
vulnerable situations in ways which exploit these
 being sensitive and courteous
 avoiding violent action or language, threats, manipulation, improper
inducements, or the misuse of any kind of power
 respecting the right of others to disagree with us

Living and working together is not always easy. Religion harnesses deep emotions which can
sometimes take destructive forms. Where this happens, we must draw on our faith to bring
about reconciliation and understanding.

The truest fruits of religion are healing and positive. We have a great deal to learn from one
another which can enrich us without undermining our own identities. Together, listening and
responding with openness and respect, we can move forward to work in ways that
acknowledge genuine differences but build on shared hopes and values.

© Inter Faith Network for the UK 1993, 2000

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