Freedom of Religion or Belief — [Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:52 pm on 1st March 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 1:52 pm, 1st March 2018

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and endorse what he said. Conditions should be attached to the support we give. I, too, feel tremendous pride in UK aid and what it does in refugee camps, but minority groups must not be excluded.

The lessons of history teach us that there can be awful consequences if the majority becomes insensitive to, and apathetic about, the rights and privileges of conscience and choice of even the smallest minority. Freedom of religion is the right to choose, change, declare and act upon one’s faith. It includes the freedom to worship, but it is much more than that. It is the right to exercise or practise one’s religion without Government interference.

Religious freedom, including our freedom to act according to our conscience within the law, protects the space we all need to live our lives according to our beliefs and values. An assault on that freedom is an assault on our basic ability to live as we choose and be who we are openly and freely without hindrance. All people—those of faith and those of none—have a stake in protecting religious freedom for that reason. Fairness is never easy. It does not just happen. We must be aware of how we interact with each other, even on a casual basis. That approach runs counter to a troubling tendency, perhaps most evident on social media, for the attributes of people of faith to be reduced to nothing more than a caricature of their beliefs. A “fairness for all” approach goes beyond that. It asks people to try to understand the concerns and needs of others, even if they disagree with them. Most of the time, people with whom we disagree have sincerely held beliefs and a reasonable basis for holding them. We must respect each other.

Religion, especially in an environment of respect, strengthens the social fabric of society. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said that religion

“remains the most powerful community builder the world has known…Religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history”.

The Prophet Mohammed said:

“None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

We should commit ourselves consistently to apply the principle of selfless love for our fellow human beings. We should seek to improve ourselves as individuals and our society in the exercise of the United Kingdom’s influence as a global power.