The findings were put forth last week by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Holy See representative to the session of the U.N. Commission of Human Rights, being held in Geneva through April 23.
"An emerging subtle form of religious intolerance is opposing the right of religion to speak publicly on issues concerning forms of behavior that are measured against principles of a moral and religious nature," said the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations and specialized institutions in this Swiss city.
"While respecting a healthy sense of the state's secular nature, the positive role of believers in public life should be recognized," Archbishop Tomasi said.
"This corresponds, among other things, to the demands of a healthy pluralism and contributes to the building up of authentic democracy," he added.
"Religion cannot be relegated to a corner of the private sphere of life and in this way risk losing its social dimension and its charitable action toward vulnerable people it serves without any distinction," the Holy See representative said.
Archbishop Tomasi recalled that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights articulates and promotes religious freedom.
He quoted Article 18 of the document, which states: "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."
Archbishop Tomasi added that "unfortunately, religious freedom continues to be violated in several places."
"There is an added dimension today of non-state groups taking upon themselves the initiative to discriminate and even use violence against religious minorities, in many cases with impunity," he observed.
"Places of worship and cemeteries are burnt down or vandalized and desecrated; believers are threatened, attacked and even killed, and their leaders are made a special target of discrimination," the archbishop said.
He added: "The ability to choose one's religion, including the right to change it, meets with great obstacles in some social contexts in direct violation of the guaranteed freedom of conscience."