Bishop of Guildford: Religious freedom is eroding

We are seeing an increasing erosion of religious freedom, writes the Bishop of Guildford, ahead of his debate in the House of Lords.

I am to ask Her Majesty’s Government a question in relation to the promotion of freedom of religion and conscience internationally, as a fundamental human right and a source of stability, for several reasons.

First, sadly there is a greater erosion of freedom of religion at this time than for many years before. However, I shall open the debate by stressing that it is about conscience as well as religion. In other words, I am not only concerned about the freedom for the various faith communities but also all conscientious persons.

One of the things I shall be stressing is the importance of finding a way of articulating our concern for freedom of religion without being partisan and indulging in tit for tat debates to the effect that ‘we are more persecuted than you.’ It is very proper that there are individuals and organisations campaigning on behalf of the various faith groups. That is perfectly reasonable. But we also need a holistic approach and that is where the government the European Union and the United Nations all have their part to play.

In my speech I shall be acknowledging that the Church has not always been a champion of freedom – that is to be deeply regretted - but then secular governments too have also been guilty of terrible persecutions (for example in the 20th century, as witnessed by the extreme regimes of east and west (Nazi/Stalinist/Maoist).

I touch on the balance of the recent European Court of Human Rights’ decision and pick up a number of practical points that I am aware that the government, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are engaged in, and I encourage further development.

I shall be ending with a quotation from the Chief Rabbi and Dostoyevsky – who in The Brothers Karamazof gives us a parable about the freedom that true religion should bring – though sometimes monolithic institutions, including the Church, have opposed this.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford will ask Her Majesty’s Government what their strategy is for promoting freedom of religion and conscience internationally as a fundamental human right and as a source of stability for all countries.

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