The 18th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights* declares that each of us has the right to practice the religion of our choice and to worship in the way that we desire. If the freedom of religion and worship are a basic human rights, does that mean that members of a religion have the right to challenge their current roles in or current relationships with their religious community? Do they have the right to seek opportunities to participate in worship, service, and leadership roles that have previously been reserved for others?
On October 5, 2013, a group of Mormon women did something unprecedented: they requested admittance into the Priesthood Session of General Conference, a meeting traditionally held only for the men of the Church. This group of women want the prophet of the Church, President Thomas S. Monson, to consider allowing women to be ordained to the priesthood; currently, only men can be ordained. By attending the meeting, they wanted to show the prophet that they consider themselves potential priesthood holders, and that they are prepared to take on the responsibilities that come with ordination. They are prepared to be included in their religion in a fuller capacity than they currently are.
The group of women stood patiently in the standby line as men and young boys walked past to get tickets at the last moment. A church spokesperson walked down the line and told the group that the session was for men only, and that it wouldn’t be possible for them to get tickets. Even so, the women were still given the opportunity to ask for tickets one by one, and were rejected—one by one.
Shortly after they were denied tickets, a garbage truck arrived at the scene to block access to the doors. When it left, a barrier had been placed in front of the doors.
These women never waved signs. They never shouted or chanted. There was no cursing or insults. Just a simple, peaceful request to enter in with the men of the church and listen to the speakers.
Mormon women aren’t the only ones seeking to change the way they interact with their religion: a group of Catholic women have also been working toward the goal of women’s ordination in their church; Jewish women have been petitioning to participate in both activities and roles that have traditionally been reserved only for men; Muslim women have been challenging the inequality between genders using the Qur’an and the teachings of Islam.
Is it a human rights issue for women to be excluded from certain roles or activities, or do the unique beliefs and doctrines of the religion allow for these exclusions? While there are undoubtedly many people who would agree that the women fighting to change things within their religions have the right to do so, there are certainly many people who would argue that they don’t have that right. Because the 18th article of the Declaration of Human Rights is open to interpretation, matters like these can be controversial.
As women continue to petition for greater participation and equality in their religions, perhaps their leaders and communities will see these issues in a new light and be willing to work out new solutions that will please everyone.
*The Universal Declaration of Human Rights