Bishop warns of further decline in religious freedom

AP

The Bishop of Wakefield, Right Reverend Stephen Platten, has called upon government ministers to tackle the decline in religious freedom worldwide.

Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords tabled by Lord Alton of Liverpool, he asked the Government to consider the appointment of a special ambassador for religious freedom.

"Over the past decade every region in the world has seen marked declines with regard to religious freedom," he said.

"Christians in Egypt and Syria, Baha'is in Iran, Shi'ite Muslims in Indonesia, and Sunni Muslims in Thailand and Burma face serious threats to their viability and even survival.

"If freedom of religion and belief is a primary barometer of the social health of a nation, the palpable decline in recent years in respect of this most fundamental right suggests a worrying state of affairs regarding the health of the global common good."

The bishop criticised the Government for making religious freedom "too low a priority", asserting that it "is not about protecting the rights of one religious community over another but about providing for the human flourishing of all, irrespective of whether they have a religious belief".

However, he praised Baroness Warsi, the Minister for Faith and Communities, for her devotion to the issue. The Baroness spoke at Georgetown University in Washington earlier this month, where she warned that Christians and other religious minorities are experiencing a "global crisis" amid a rise in attacks against them.

She stated that in some parts of the world, Christians are facing "discrimination, ostracism, torture, even murder, simply for the faith they follow".

Bishop Platten called Baroness Warsi's speech "the latest example of the forthright engagement that we have come to expect from her".

He spoke of the importance of committing to "the underlying value of freedom of religion or belief", and said that these values need to be supported by "proactive policies".

He admitted that a great deal of work is already being done to secure religious freedom, but argued that the focus needs to be shifted onto ensuring peace and security for individuals.

This, he said, could be helped by the appointment of an ambassador for religious freedom, who would help to "enhance the voice of the UK as the champion of an inclusive approach".

He concluded with the warning that "unless we are prepared to give this issue the urgent attention it requires, we cannot be surprised if respect for religious freedom continues to decline markedly".

"The existing strategy across our world is not working, and it is time to think again," he said.

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