Synod hears call for a bill to enshrine religious freedom in law

MEMBERS OF General Synod heard calls for a Parliamentary Bill to enshrine religious freedoms in the UK.

One of the Private Member’sMotions for Synod Members to sign at the York sessions last weekend highlighted the need for such a Bill that would also contribute to protecting the free practice of all faiths globally.

Sponsored by Sarah Finch(London) it has so far attracted 68 of the required 100 signatures for it to be debated next February.

Speaking at a Synod Fringe Meeting and Discussionattended by over 30 members to elaborate the need for such a Bill, Hendrik Storm, the Chief Executive of Barnabas Fund, argued that religious freedom transcends places of worship andthe private sphere of individuals and familiesand affects all aspects of our lives.

“However,politicians and journalists increasingly refer to ‘freedom of religion’ as ‘freedom of worship’,which effectively states that you should only be a Christian on a Sunday.”

He charted seven foundational aspects of freedom ofreligion developed in the UK over many centuries by the repeal of laws restricting freedom of religion rather than byany positive affirmation of such freedom. The sevenfreedoms are:

  1. To read Scripture in public (1537);
  2. To interpret Scripture without government interference (1559 in the Elizabethan settlement);
  3. To worship (1689 Toleration Act);
  4. To choose or change your faith (1689 Toleration Act);
  5. To preach and try to convince others of the truth of your beliefs(Repeal of the Five Mile Act in 1812);
  6. To establish places of worship (Repeal of theConventicle Act 1812);
  7. Not to be required to affirm a particular set of beliefsin order to attend university, hold a public sector job or stand for election(repeal of the test acts 1888).

Barnabas Fund, with other organisations, under theOurReligiousFreedom campaign is calling on the UK government to introduce a newlaw to enshrine these hard-fought-for religious freedoms gained from the removal of restrictions but which have not been positively affirmed.

Their campaign has almost secured the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a debate In Parliament, which is strongly advocated by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP.

While Human Rights legislation affirms the right to practice and to change religion, it does not cover the whole field and can also be misused.

One approach to human rights is expressed in Magna Carta and English Common Law and says: “this is what the government is not allowed to do topeople”.

The currently preferred approach dates from the French Revolution and givesspecific rights to every individual, for example, the right to life.

But he said that thishas two problems: there is no agreement as to what these rights are, and oneperson’s rights can conflict with another person’s rights–for example, the right tofreedom of speech and the right “not to be offended.”

He quoted the speech by the Queen at Lambeth Palace in February 2012, whosaid, “TheChurch hasa duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”

Mr Storm claimed that the regression in religious freedom is taking place because beliefs are protected, instead of people. Secular humanism is deliberately undermining Christianity, with political correctness entrenching discrimination against Christians.

He claimed that secular ideology trumps evidence and saturates the public sector.‘The Government is moving from protecting certain beliefs, tolegislating on behalf of and thus enforcing certain beliefs. The introduction of hatespeech, hate crime and hate incidents has given rise to terms such as Islamophobia.’

He went on: “History shows us that freedom of religion must constantly be re-affirmed, reappropriated and defended.”

He added:“These freedoms areonly a generation away from being lost.”