..Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) provides:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.That’s unequivocal. Freedom of religion means the right to live according to one’s own faith, that is, to “manifest” our religion or belief in practice, both “in public or private,” without interference from the state.
Article 18 definitely says that, and it is certainly absolute. It is also not legally binding, part of the reason it is able to be absolute. The very critically different language in the legally-binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
Paragraph 3 clearly envisions that freedom of religion does not serve as a end-all trump against claims by the state. It is not surprising that it does so, since some of the rights in the ICCPR are qualified in this way, and all the rights in the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are qualified under Article 2(1). The question is then whether a particular law enacts a policy that is "necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others." It does no good, in this case, to assert 'freedom of religion' as a defense against a law that seeks to abridge religious freedom, because the question is not whether there can be an abridgement (there can) but whether the abridgement can be justified on the grounds given.
(Via Alan Jacobs, who I imagine might disagree with my point.)