Cameron told to put free­dom of re­li­gion at heart of for­eign pol­icy

The Church of England - - NEWS -

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.

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