The Archbishop of Canterbury has called on politicians, the church and the media to speak out against the ‘quiet creeping removals of freedom that create a climate of fear and animosity.’ He was speaking at the Parliamentary launch of the Religious Liberty Commission, a new partnership within the Evangelical Alliance that aims to strengthen its advocacy on issues of freedom of religion or belief.
The Most Reverend and Rt Hon Justin Welby highlighted the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, attacks against Jews in Europe and the firebombing of mosques, and told an audience of parliamentarians and church leaders:
“That is why we must speak out. We must speak out in solidarity. Silence is not an option. Treasuring the dignity of each and every human must mean that we treasure their right to religious belief – even when we profoundly disagree with them.”
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right – now enshrined in international law – and should be treated as equal, not subordinate, to other human rights. And for those of us who are Christians, let’s just be quite clear that the church, including the Church of England, has a poor record in this as in many other areas, but perhaps in the last 300 years has begun to learn a little of where it went wrong.
“If human rights are normative, as we believe, for how humans ought to be treated, then the precious, God-given gift of human dignity is the foundation on which these rights stand. We have value, every human being has value, because we are valued by God. Rights spring from the ineradicable dignity that we are given in creation, and we have a responsibility before God, as those who trust in Him, to protect them.
“We must be models ourselves; we must speak out in solidarity. Silence is not an option if we are to stay true to our faith. If our religious beliefs are a core part of our humanity, then treasuring the dignity of each and every human must mean we treasure their right to religious belief – even when we disagree. Religious freedom is a precious freedom, but it is also profoundly delicate and complex. It is not private, but public. It is lived out and expressed publicly.
“if we believe in freedom to choose, if we believe in freedom of religion, what’s good for one is good for all. We must speak out for others persecuted for their beliefs, whether it be religious or atheistic: taking responsibility for someone else’s freedom is as important as protecting my own. It is as much the right of Stephen Fry to say what he said and not to be abused by Christians who are affronted, as it is the right of Christians to proclaim Jesus Christ as their Saviour: that is his freedom to choose that is given to us in creation.
“Freedom of religion embedded in the very way we are human. Freedom of religion is in international law. Freedom of religion is God-given and God-called. It is preserved by humble, confident care of what it is to be a human being, and the knowledge that when human beings live out their lives faithful to Christ – and I’m talking here as a Christian – they are the most human they will ever be.”
The Religious Liberty Commission echoes the international Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, and is a Commission of the Evangelical Alliance, comprising Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors UK and Release International. Mervyn Thomas, the CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said “Our purpose is to amplify the cries of the persecuted so the world can no longer ignore them.”