Religious Freedom Eroded Amid 'Fear And Distrust' Of Faith - Report

Religious freedoms in the UK are being eroded amid "a climate of fear and distrust" of faith, a report from a think tank has found.

The banning of crosses and headscarves harm freedom and damage the benefits religion can bring, the report said. Launched on Wednesday by ResPublica it argued "expressions of faith are being eroded amid pressures on religious believers to conform to the rapid and unprecedented revolution in family, sexual, and medical ethics".

British Airways employee Nadia Eweida, who was forbidden to wear a cross around her neck, was cited by the report as example of eroding free speech

In Beyond Belief said more protections for religious groups were needed and called for a British Bill of Rights to formalise this commitment.

Religious people are three and a half times more likely to volunteer and be involved in community work, the report found and cited research in the US that suggested religious groups contribute $1.2trillion to the economy each year.

Director of ResPublica, Phillip Blond, said: "By refusing people the right to wear a cross or headscarf at work we are eroding the good that could be achieved.

"We hear a lot about the bad things people do in the name of religion but all faiths actually have a role to play in bringing communities together and stopping division."

The report targeted universities and employees who punish students or staff for expressing a religious belief. It called for a Religious Freedom Code of Practice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission to introduce to remove any fear of punishment and force universities to uphold their commitment to free speech.

It also called for a "duty of reasonable accommodation" for workers' beliefs and said: "Employment in the public sector should no longer compel individuals to behave in ways that a member of their faith would reasonably perceive to contradict their sincerely held religious beliefs."

The report was supported by Christian MP David Burrowes who said religious liberty had been "downgraded" in relation to other human rights. He said he was "delighted" the report "is shedding light on this pressing, but too often overlooked issue".

Christian charity CARE also backed the report saying it "highlights some concerning trends which show how faith is becoming sidelined in the public square and could lead to a greater privatisation of religious beliefs".

Chief executive Nola Leach said: "We need to be aware that these trends will lead to questions about how people of faith can contribute and engage in all aspects of society. This report highlights the vital role that people of faith already play in our communities; we must not put ourselves in a position where we disregard and neglect the role these groups play in our society – for example religious groups are often in a position where they can distribute welfare must more effective than local government can."