Freedom of religion is not just an optional extra, it is “the key human right”, a Government minister has told the House of Lords.
Peers considered the case for the UK to give greater priority to upholding freedom of religion and belief in the light of worldwide violations of such freedoms.
The debate, led by Lord Alton, coincided with comments yesterday from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who used examples from the UK and further afield.
In the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Alderdice challenged the “liberal intolerance towards people with various kinds of religious belief”.
He said the view that people should ‘keep these things in a private box’ is wrong because faith drives people and is “of profound importance” to many.
Lord Mackay, who is the Honorary President of the Scottish Bible Society, noted that “the restriction of a person’s faith or belief is as serious as any other restriction of personal freedom”.
Peers discussed the situation abroad, with Lord Alton highlighting Christian persecution in many places, from “Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, North Korea and many other countries”.
He also raised the issue of people from other religions being targeted.
Lord Alton’s debate reflected upon Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says everyone has the right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” both in public and private.
Responding for the Government, Baroness Anelay said the “ongoing assault on freedom of religion or belief is absolutely unacceptable”.
“Freedom of religion or belief is not just an optional extra, or nice to have; it is the key human right”, she said.
Lady Anelay also highlighted the “brutal terrorist group known as ISIL, or Daesh” which is “making the headlines every day with images of Christians executed on beaches”.
She continued: “Where freedom of religion is protected, extremist ideologies are much less likely to take root”.
Lord Alton concluded the debate by commenting on the importance of respecting conscience, and the liberties available in Parliament.
He said: “We have enormous privileges, opportunities, liberties and freedoms in this place and we must use them to speak out on behalf of those to whom so much reference has been made today.”
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had written in The Times earlier the same day about the importance of freedom of religion at home and abroad.
He said: “Curtailing religious freedom in the name of other freedoms runs the risk of discarding one of the most important and creative forces in human beings.”