Cameron told to put freedom of religion at heart of foreign policy
FOLLOWING LAST weekend’s bombing in Lahore, the British Government is being urged to put freedom of religion at the heart of its foreign policy.
The call came from the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the Evangelical Alliance, who said the Government should increase staff and resources in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to increase its capacity in promoting and defending freedom of religion.
The RLC is made up of three Christian agencies: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors and Release International, who have all reported on the persecution of Christians around the world.
In addition to policies and increased resources, the RLC is calling for an ‘extensive drive’ to develop religious literacy across Government departments.
RLC spokesman, Dr David Landrum said he is encouraged that UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, recognises that religious freedom is a fundamental right for everyone, and is an essential part of a free society, though hopes that this recognition will be expressed strongly in foreign policy.
Open Doors, an organisation that helps persecuted Christians around the world, recently made key recommendations to David Cameron which included ‘building pluralism’ (ie a multifaith approach) into all core Foreign Office and Department for International Development strategies and documentation, alongside diversity.
Other recommendations include intentionally building knowledge and understanding of the religious landscape at a grassroots level in the countries the UK is engaging with, in order to ensure that any UK involvement supports rather than erodes greater religious diversity.
Dr Ed Kessler MBE, Founder and Director of the Woolf Institute, a leading institute in interfaith research, told The Church of England Newspaper that whilst there has been a significant improvement in Government Departments about religion and belief literacy, much more remains to be done.
“In my view, there should be a British Standard of Religion and Belief Literacy to help understand the role of religion and belief in society. This will improve the working environment and make more effective delivery of services.
“The 2015 report of the Com- mission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life recommended that a religion and belief literacy programme is created in every section of society, and at all levels. The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge.”
He warned: “Widespread illiteracy has many dangerous consequences, but the most urgent is that it fuels conflict and antagonisms and hinders cooperative endeavour.”
Another recommendation from the RLC is for the UK Government to look beyond the major international and governmental distributors of aid to local community and religiousbased organisations, to ensure that UK aid reaches those of all religions.
In an article written by Religious Liberty Commission, due to be released in the summer, the RLC will urge the Government to follow through on EU’s 2013 Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief by ensuring training for all EU Delegation staff on the guidelines to ensure better religious literacy.
They also want the Government to encourage and facilitate joint EU positions on cases of religious persecution.
“At a time when so many parts of the world are experiencing oppression by those who wish to deny or destroy religious freedom, our hope is that Britain can strengthen its record of promoting human rights by placing freedom of religion or belief at the heart of foreign policy,” said Dr Landrum.
Speaking on contributing factors that could help put an end to religious persecution, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said that the teaching of hatred absorbed in schools through textbooks, some religious schools, teachers and public gatherings needed to be addressed ‘urgently’.
Dr Nazir-Ali, who is president of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue, also said that there is a ‘rampant misuse’ of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
“I have suggested again and again to Governments how to deal with this and I’ve had verbal agreement, but in fact very little has been done,” he said.