Codes of conduct for religious persuasion: the legal framework and best practices


  • Matthew K. Richards
  • Are L. Svendsen
  • Rainer Bless


Religious persuasion, codes of conduct, freedom of conscience, proselytism, right to manifest, mission, ecumenical, inter-faith, freedom of religion, freedom of belief


Attempts by people of faith to persuade others to their beliefs, while a protected human right, can spark conflicts in communities intent on protecting their privacy and identity. A possible solution lies in voluntary codes of conduct for missionary activities. Such codes are more likely than governmental regulations to prevent or resolve cross-cultural and inter-faith conflicts relating to religious persuasion. This article analyzes nineteen voluntary codes to identify which types have greatest potential for conflict-resolution. Effective codes are compatible with international law norms, respectful of multiple traditions, and addressed to a general audience. Codes drafted by intra-faith or ecumenical groups – while appropriate for the group’s internal purposes – are less likely to prevent or resolve cross-cultural or inter-faith conflicts and should not be viewed as universal standards by which to judge the missionary activities of all faiths.

Author Biographies

Matthew K. Richards

Dr. Matthew K. Richards holds a Juris Doctorate and practices law in the United States and is a fellow of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University.

Are L. Svendsen

Are L. Svendsen is a jurist in Norway and holds a Master of Law degree. He is a board member of both the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Council of Religious and Life Stance Communities in Norway.

Rainer Bless

Rainer Bless, an Assessor iuris, practices law in Germany, having recently concluded a traineeship in the Freedoms & Justice Department of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna, Austria. He equally is a fellow of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University.