A UK Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB) Forum has been established one year after the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, urged the Government to step up its global leadership on protecting religious minorities.
In his review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support for persecuted Christians, published last year, Bishop Mounstephen argued that the Government should aim to become “the global leader in championing freedom of religion and belief [FoRB]” (News, 12 July 2019).
The Government accepted the report and announced yesterday that the Bishop, alongside religious-freedom charities and faith communities, would convene a new UK FoRB Forum “to ensure that the UK plays a leading role in global efforts to advance religious freedom or belief around the world”.
The Forum, which is still gathering representation from civil-society organisations, NGOs, academic organisations, and the Government, will be launched in September. It will be responsible for raising awareness of religion-based restrictions, intolerance, and discrimination around the world; inform UK policy-making on FoRB and make recommendations for action; be in liaison with the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FoRB and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on FoRB; and ultimately hold the Government to account for the implementation of Bishop Mounstephen’s review.
The Bishop, who will chair the Forum, said on Thursday: “In one of his first speeches to the House of Commons on the slave trade, William Wilberforce said this: ‘You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.’ My hope is that the UK Freedom of Religion or Belief Forum will enable us all to look steadily at this egregious problem of our time, not to let it be overlooked, and together to face it down.”
Stephen Tunstall of the Good Faith Partnership, who has been gathering representation, said: “We’re beginning to see a greater commitment at a political level to protecting freedom of religion or belief, thanks in part to years of advocacy and campaigning by groups in the UK. The UK Freedom of Religion or Belief Forum builds on this momentum. . .
“With evidence that restrictions on freedom of religion or belief are increasing around the world, the UK FoRB Forum will lead to greater collaboration among civil-society groups concerned about protecting this fundamental freedom. I am deeply hopeful that the UK FoRB Forum will ultimately result in fewer people around the world being persecuted for their religion or belief.”
The forum will be convened up to eight times in the first year before the Government hosts the International Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in London next year.