The right to believe as such isn’t nonsensical at all, on the contrary. Even “natural enemies” of religious freedom – atheists and religious fundamentalists – should be able to see the value of a right to religious belief and religious practice: freedom of religion means plurality of religion, and plurality of religion in turn fosters plurality of views in general, something which atheists should be able to appreciate. And I’ve argued here how even religious fundamentalists should – in theorie – espouse religious liberty. In short, a right to believe in the sense of religious freedom is crucial to human life. (The same is true, of course, of a right to believe in its wider meaning, namely freedom of thought).
What is nonsensical is this interpretation of the meaning of the right to believe:
Here is a true story. A young philosophy lecturer — let us call him Shane — is charged with the task of introducing young minds to the wonders of philosophy. His course, a standard Introduction to Philosophy, contains a section on the philosophy of religion: the usual arguments-for-and-against-the-existence-of-God stuff. One of Shane’s students complains to Shane’s Dean that his cherished religious beliefs are being attacked. ‘I have a right to my beliefs,’ the student claims. Shane’s repeated interrogations of those beliefs amounts to an attack on this right to believe. Shane’s institution is not a particularly enlightened one. The Dean concurs with the student, and instructs Shane to desist in teaching philosophy of religion. (source, source)
A right to believe doesn’t include a right not to be challenged or criticized. (Here’s another case in which religious believers claim that their rights restricts the freedom of speech of their criticizers). A right to believe is only actionable when outside forces destroy your beliefs; criticism is not such a force. If criticism changes your beliefs, it’s you who changes them, not the criticizer. If, on the other hand, we’re dealing with indoctrination, a lobotomy or another forceful modification of belief, your right to believe becomes actionable.
More human rights nonsense.