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During this debate, it has been reported by the police in Northern Ireland that, on
I want to start by commending my hon. Friend Jim Shannon. He is a remarkable chap, as everyone in this House will know, because of his diligence and his service to this cause. I do not think there is anyone on the Front Bench who is not collared by him several times every week on this subject, and rightly so. He is outstanding on this matter and he probably does not get enough credit for the actions that he takes. It is important for me to put that on record, as other Members from across the House and across the parties have also done. Well done, Jim.
The architecture of this room is imbued with significant high callings. Indeed, the words inscribed on the Chair that you sit on, Mr Deputy Speaker, read as follows:
“The hand that deals justly is a sweet smelling ointment. A heedful and faithful mind is conscious of righteousness…Praise be to God.”
That lies at the heart of our Christian beliefs. That sweet smelling ointment means that Christians behave in a different way, and when they face persecution, they do not retaliate in the way that others of different beliefs perhaps would. That inscription on your Chair is a potent reminder of the history—the Christian history—of this nation and a reminder that we should all be alert to the need to defend those of faith who are persecuted, both here at home and abroad. It is important that we are frank about what happens at home so that we can also speak about righteousness abroad. Frankly, it is unfortunate that within this nation, which likes to be called Christian, Christians are seen as fair game for attack, for ridicule and even for hatred. Those who unashamedly hold biblical or Christian beliefs here are often singled out for attack. If we wish to allow freedom of expression for others abroad, we should ensure that there is freedom of expression for religious and, yes, difficult beliefs at home. If we are going to promote freedom outside this nation, we should ensure that we defend freedom inside it.
Sir William Cash commented on the inequalities that persist in human rights legislation. Three years ago a huge banner was openly displayed—certain Members of Parliament even walk with that banner—bearing the words “F— the DUP”. When I reported the matter to the police, they told me that that was within the human rights legislation on freedom of expression. I challenged them by asking whether, if I were to have a counter banner, that would be permitted under my freedom of expression. I was told that it would not be allowed because it would provoke trouble. The hon. Member for Stone rightly highlighted these inequalities, and we should not be afraid to address these matters.
We have also seen attacks in this place. A leader of the Liberal Democrat party was effectively driven out of the leadership because he is a Christian and expressed Christian views. More recently we have read in the press about an attack on a prominent Labour party member who hopes to be leader of the party. She holds certain moral views and keeps them private, but because she holds those views, she is game for attack. We need to call those things out and recognise that if that is allowed to grow, we cannot really stand here and talk about religious freedom elsewhere. People must have that moral and religious freedom.
Around the world, as Members have already put on record, there are 260 million Christians who live in either a high or very high state of alert as a result of extreme levels of persecution. It has rightly been said that, if someone travels from Morocco in the north of Africa to Cameroon in the west, they will be in danger in each and every one of the countries they pass through, all of which have widespread persecution. We saw the despicable bombing of a place of worship—the softest of soft targets—in Colombo last year. Those with hatred in their hearts see places of Christian worship in particular as legitimate targets for attack because they are soft and easy. Our Government’s special envoy on this matter should see giving greater security to places of religious worship around the world, including Christian worship, as one of his tasks. There is no reason why embassies cannot task someone with an analysis of where such places are most at threat and of what additional security can be given to them.
Anyone who listened to the moving words of David Linsey, who lost his sister Amelia and his brother Daniel in that outrage in Colombo, must admire the demonstration of genuine Christian love and generosity to his enemy that he has expressed since the attack. He is admired internationally because of his comments about how he wants to respond to the violence that was inflicted upon his family. This nation should be proud that he has turned that hatred into a platform on which he can express his Christian love to others. I invite Members to meet David Linsey on
The Government should also move further on my and other Members’ campaign to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation which inspires hatred and attacks on Christians at home and abroad. Members have mentioned the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and its Foreign Secretary was here last week. He told MPs that his kingdom had banned the Muslim Brotherhood because it turns their sacred beliefs into a tool of hatred to inspire attacks against Christians in particular and against political freedom. It was amazing that he said that, but he also expressed amazement that the United Kingdom had not taken similar action to ban Muslim Brotherhood.