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Faith Communities — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:20 pm on 29th May 2012.

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Photo of Lord Plant of Highfield Lord Plant of Highfield Labour 12:20 pm, 29th May 2012

My Lords, the Human Rights Act has played a major role in securing, on a statutory basis, the freedom of religious belief. However, the protection of the freedom to manifest belief has become much more controversial. The courts have got into the position of having to determine whether a particular practice is intrinsic to a religion or not. The different findings by the courts on this issue have some potential for creating tension and even resentment between different religions. We would be much better off if we abandoned this attempt by the courts to sit as some kind of theological tribunal to determine whether this, that or the other practice is intrinsic to a religion, and tolerated, as far as we can, all manifestations of religious belief so long as they do not cause harm to other people.

We can share a concept of harm-it is a broadly based citizenship approach-whereas a court trying to determine what is intrinsic to a religion is a very hermetic thing that will be a source of increasing resentment as time goes on. We ought to abandon that kind of approach altogether.