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Beliefs of both religious groups and non-theistic ethical systems, like Humanism, differ greatly in their concepts of deity, other beliefs and practices. But one principle is accepted by almost everyone. It is the Ethic of Reciprocity: the concept that we should treat others as we would wish them to treat us. One expression of this Ethic is the Christianity's Golden Rule.

A logical development of the Ethic is the principle that each individual is of equal worth, simply because they are human. People may come in three main genders (female, intersexual, and male), all sizes and shapes, many races, three sexual orientations (bisexual, heterosexual, and homosexual), and with a range of talents and abilities. But, there is a growing belief that every human should be considered of equal value.

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Secular documents which promote equality:

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is one example of this developing consensus: 1,2

  • Preamble of the UDHR:
    • It starts by referring to the rights of all humans: "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world..."
    • It ends by stating that the UDHR is "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms."
  • Article 1: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
  • Article 2: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."
  • Article 7: "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

Religious texts which favor equality:

Almost all religious and ethical groups have passages in their holy texts, or writings of their leaders, which promote the belief that all humans are of equal worth.

  • Bahá'í Faith: "No difference or preference has been made by God for its human inhabitants; but man has laid the foundation of prejudice, hatred and discord with his fellowman by considering nationalities separate in importance and races different in rights and privileges."  Promulgation of Universal Peace, Page 232
  • Buddhism: "So what of all these titles, names, and races? They are mere worldly conventions." Sutta Nipata 648
  • Christianity: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3.28
  • Confucianism: "By nature men are pretty much alike; it is learning and practice that set them apart." Analects 17.2
  • Hinduism: "I look upon all creatures equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear." Bhagavad Gita 9.29
  • Islam: "For the white to lord it over the black, the Arab over the non-Arab, the rich over the poor, the strong over the weak or men over women is out of place and wrong." Hadith of Ibn Majah
  • Jainism: "The Law is that which leads to welfare and salvation. It forms conduct and character distinguished by the sense of equality among all beings." Somadeva, Nitivakyamrita 1.1
  • Judaism: "...a single man was created for the sake of peace among mankind, that none should say to his fellow, 'My father was greater than your father.' Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.5
  • Native American Spirituality: *
  • Shinto: *
  • Sikhism: "Don't create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone." Guru Arjan Devji 259
  • Taoism: *
  • Zoroastrianism: *

* We are searching for suitable quotations. Any help would be appreciated.

Laws, practices and traditions which oppose equality:

  • Slaves are considered property to be bought, sold and exploited. Slavery is generally outlawed throughout the world. However, it is still practiced in some countries. Indentured servitude and child exploitation is even more common.
  • Women have low status in many areas of the world. In North America, the two remaining major career areas that are not open to women are certain combat assignments in the Armed Forces, and positions of power within some conservative denominations and religions. The two largest Christian denominations, the Roman Catholic church and the Southern Baptist Convention do not allow women to be considered for ordination. Other denominations excluding women as clergy include those affiliated with the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). Church exclusion from positions of power are often based upon the low status of women in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), where they were often looked upon as property. Certain epistles of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), which conservative Christians attribute to Paul and liberal Christians believe were written in the second century CE also relegated them to submissive status.
  • Gays and lesbians are not a protected class. That is, a person who is discriminated against in employment, accommodation, etc. because of their gender, race, nationality, age, degree of ability, etc are protected against discrimination in most jurisdictions of North America. But homosexuals can be freely fired from their jobs or refused accommodation without any recourse in law. Heterosexuals have access to over 1,000 special benefits as a result of marrying. Homosexuals are not permitted to marry and thus are denied these privileges. The state of Vermont will allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions, starting 2000-JUL-1. These unions do grant all of the state-mandated privileges previously reserved to married couples. However, it is doubtful that Vermont civil unions will be recognized in other states without a legal battle. Also, no federal benefits will be given to gays and lesbians who enter into civil unions.
  • Religious persecution is rampant throughout the world. Major civil disturbances and civil wars are fueled by religious intolerance. Followers of minority religions are often considered as sub-human and oppressed, raped and murdered almost at will. Even countries with excellent human rights records, like France and Germany oppress certain religions. Greece, the cradle of democracy, does not allow believers to proselytize. 
  • Although the caste system has been outlawed in India, old traditions die hard. "Untouchables" and people from other lower castes are still heavily discriminated against.
  • Bigots still consider certain groups of people to be sub-human on the basis of their race, nationality, country of origin, degree of ability, etc.


  1. The English text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is at: http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
  2. The text is available in other languages is at: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu6/1/univdec1.htm 
  3. "World Scripture: Equality" contains additional quotations at: http://service-net.org/ws/theme030.cfm 

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