MORE than 100 politicians from 60 countries met academics and religious leaders in Berlin last week to discuss the challenge of combating religious persecution, and advancing the freedom of religion or belief across the world.
The conference was hosted over two days by the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB), an informal network of parliamentarians formed to uphold freedom of religious belief under Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, and the foreign-policy adviser for the Church of England, Dr Charles Reed, who is an IPPFoRB member, were also in attendance. Bishop Baines wrote on his blog: “Belief is assumed to be synonymous with ‘blind assumption’, ‘mere opinion’ or ‘wishful thinking’. . . It isn’t merely giving intellectual assent to a set of propositions about God and the world; rather, it means committing oneself to a world now seen differently.”
Giving the welcome address, the German Chancellor, Dr Angela Merkel, called on all MPs to take responsibility for defending the freedom of religion or belief within their countries. “Although some religiously motivated behaviour may seem strange, we must always keep the high value of religious freedom in mind,” she said. It was part of the “core of what makes our country what it is and what we hold dear”.
This applied to dress. Dr Merkel said that, although she personally found the burqa (full-face veil) to be “a great obstacle in integration”, “freedom rights also protect the freedom to be different from what the majority expects or imagines.”
Other speakers were concerned about recent violations of Article 18 around the world, including a rise of religious extremism, intolerance, and violence. Religious communities should support and promote social cohesion in areas where intolerance had led to division, it was said.
The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, who was also in attendance, said: “Religious freedom is a God-given right that we, as people of faith, must always advocate for. . . We must actively and prayerfully continue to support every effort that represents and speaks for those deprived of the right to speak for themselves.”