Today, Saturday 27 October, is International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day.

 

Today, Saturday 27 October, is International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day.  As we pray for Christians in parts of the world where practicing their religion has led to persecution, it is comforting to know that many of the ‘rights’ that we hold dear, are actually enshrined in international law. Today, we encourage prayer for the members of parliament who are actively promoting the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. In a world where persecution is on the increase, we thank God that there are people with influence who are willing to speak out for those who have no voice, even if it’s at the expense of their own personal popularity. 

A debate on ‘International Freedom of Religion or Belief’ took place on Thursday 25 October 2018 in Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament in London. The debate was initiated by Jim Shannon, the DUP MP for the Strangford constituency in Northern Ireland. You can read a transcript of the debate here.  The article below outlines some of the Universal human rights declarations that have become the basic codes of practice for people of goodwill around the world.

The freedom of religion or belief is stated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and also in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UK was a signatory of the UDHR and is a party to the ICCPR. The right is also contained in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which the UK is also a party, and is entrenched in the Human Rights Act 1998.

Article 18 of the UDHR is as follows:

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.

The ICCPR and ECHR add some additional text after this.

Article 18 of the ICCPR is as follows:

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.

No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

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.

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.
Article 9 of the ECHR is as follows:

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 worship, teaching, practice and observance.

Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

There is an All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.

On 27 October 2016 the APPG co-hosted a roundtable event in Parliament with the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief (CIFoRB).

One of the bodies founded by the US Religious Freedom Act, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has an extensive website, with annual reports, more focused reports on particular countries or minorities, factsheets and so on.

The 2017 Annual Report is available, covering 2016 and the first two months of 2017, along with recommendations as to the designation of various states and non-state actors as being of particular concern.

In a press release marking the day in 2016, FCO Minister Baroness Anelay said,

The right to choose your religion, to practice it, share it, change it or live without a religion at all is something that everyone should enjoy. In a world where over 80% of the population identifies as religious, this is fundamental to the lives and identity of the vast majority of the world’s citizens.

Source:  https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk

The All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief is a cross-party group of parliamentarians who believe that International Freedom of Religion or Belief is a crucial human right.

You can find out more about them by clicking here.