Publications and Record – UK Parliament: As we have heard in today’s debate, hundreds of millions of people of all religions and none find themselves facing daily threats of violence simply for exercising this basic human right to practice their faith. Even those who look to defend the rights of others regularly face similar intimidation, threats and violence.
Too often when we discuss issues of religion and human rights, it is to consider the ways in which sets of rights conflict-or seem to be in conflict-with each other. I was particularly pleased to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford note that religious freedom is not ultimately in opposition to other rights such as freedom of expression, non-discrimination, women’s rights and gay rights. As a humanist, I would certainly not suggest that freedom of religion and belief be elevated over other human rights, nor that they can go unchallenged where the safety or rights of others are threatened. Yet neither can religious belief simply be seen as a right at the margins, to be considered only when no other rights come into play. In that context, the point made by the right reverend Prelate about the right to manifest religion taking precedence over other rights, such as the corporate image of a company, was an important one. Above all, a balance of rights and a recognition of context are indicative of religious freedom as a real, not just a nominal, human right.
As with other fundamental freedoms, religious freedom is something that benefits everyone because it creates conditions for peace, democratisation, development and human rights. To that end, I ask the Minister whether the Government have considered following the example of such countries as Canada and the US in prioritising the issue of protecting religious freedoms. Our country’s links of tradition and trade to many of the most troubled areas make it well placed to use that influence to best effect. And act we must, for the human rights abuses of which we have heard this evening must not be allowed to continue unchallenged.