The positive (active) freedom of religion is the right to actively express one's religious beliefs - i.e.: the right to religion.
The negative (passive) freedom of religion refers to the right not to have to communicate one's religious stance (a question that is often asked at school, in hospital, or in offices that hand out official documents), not to have to take part in religious education at school, to be "spared" from the teachers' and classmates' expression and practice of religion - i.e.: the freedom from religion.
Negative freedom of religion is something both people of different faiths and non-believers benefit from (Hector, n.d.). Atheists, in fact, can protect themselves by demanding their negative freedom of religion (Schröder, 2005). However, it does not mean that due to one's negative freedom of religion one may keep others from exercising their positive freedom of religion (Heckel, 2004). It is, therefore, rather limited in everyday life as one cannot refer to negative freedom of religion when asking for a "religious free environment" without churches ringing their bells or muezzins calling to prayer (Starck, n.d.).
Positive and negative freedom of religion cannot be separated from each other (Fuchs, 1999). Promoting one's positive freedom may mean reducing somebody else's negative freedom - as, for instance, the never ending discussion about the crucifix in the classroom shows. This discussion, however, can be led in a more balanced way when considering whose positive and negative freedoms are considered and whose are not.
Some scholars do not consider positive and negative freedom of religion as thesis and antithesis but as a synthesis that protects both the right to do something and the right not to do something (Siering, 2011). Focusing on positive freedom of religion and neglecting the negative aspect of freedom distorts freedom and changes it into something only religiously committed people are entitled to. There can only be freedom of religion if both complementary aspects are taken into account (Bielefeldt, 2012).
- Bielefeldt, H. (2012). Streit um die Religionsfreiheit. Aktuelle Facetten der internationalen Debatte, online
- Fuchs, C. (1999). Das Staatskirchenrecht der neuen Bundesländer. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck
- Heckel, M. (2004). Gesammelte Schriften. Staat, Kirche, Recht, Geschichte. Band V. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck
- Hector, P. (n.d.) Zur Religionsfreiheit in der Rechtssprechung des Europäischen Gerichtshofs für Menschenrechte, online
- Schröder, T. (2005). Religionsfreiheit im abendländischen Kontext, online
- Siering, L. M. (2011). Die negative Religionsfreiheit und ihre Bedeutung bei aufenthaltsbeendenden Maßnahmen. Berlin: LIT
- Stark, C. (n.d.). Religionsfreiheit in Deutschland als positive und negative Freiheit, online
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