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Most universities would seek to create an education environment where students would be free to speak opinions, hold beliefs, debate concepts without fear of retribution. For example, University of Texas mission statement states its mission is to “advance socially just learning and working environments that foster a culture of excellence through diverse people, ideas and perspectives.”
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was passed December 10, 1948 at the end of World War II in order to prevent future atrocities similar to what happened to the Jews by Nazi Germany. In essence the declaration was that human rights must be protected by the International community. The preamble to the Declaration states:
"The 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….Disregard and contempt for human rights has resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind. The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people."
Articles 18 and 19 primarily represent that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression and to hold those opinions without interference. These are the underlying concepts in mission statements of most major universities which also include traditional concepts of non-discriminatory policies in accordance with federal law.
There was a case that came before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that involved a Turkish, state-owned university's ban on the wearing of the muslim headscarf. (Background, turkey's gov't is pro-secularist while it has many devout muslims who want to express their faith). The court had to decide whether this violated the right to free expression of religion under a Eurpoean human rights treaty very similar to the UDHR. The court held that it was legal because, while it was a departure from the right of free-expression, that was necessary to the need to promote a valid state interes (encourage an open-minded learning environment, and not make people who don't wear the scarf feel pressured to do so.) This shows that some human rights are not absolute, but relative to other needs in society.
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