The Commonwealth Initiative for the Freedom of Religion or Belief

The Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham, has announced the establishment of the Commonwealth Initiative for the Freedom of Religion or Belief (CIFORB) with effect from 1 October 2015.

The Initiative has been funded by a generous contribution from the Templeton World Charitable Foundation and will establish a team of researchers and other professional staff based in Birmingham and in Westminster to support Commonwealth parliamentarians in their advocacy of freedom of religion or belief (FORB) and interventions in the area. Enshrined most prominently in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, FORB is a central principle of international law:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

CIFORB’s work will benefit citizens across the Commonwealth and beyond by modelling, supporting and developing effective advocacy strategies for parliamentarians to use to advance religious freedom globally. It will have lasting and enduring impact in the attainment of a fairer, safer global society where FORB is rightly cherished, and this will be a fitting tribute to the legacy of Sir John Templeton and his commitment to building a more peaceable and tolerant world.

Among other activities, the CIFORB team will:

  • Create, collate and disseminate internationally-excellent research on FORB and strategies for upholding and extending this freedom. CIFORB’s research will seek to understand the many different international perspectives on this issue, identify good practice and enable parliamentarians to act as effective advocates for those (particularly religious and non-religious minorities) whose freedom has been compromised;
  • Host training events for parliamentarians, their senior advisors and emerging young leaders with an interest in human rights, religious affairs and foreign affairs on the significance of FORB and strategic approaches to FORB advocacy.
  • Establish a high-level Commonwealth Commission which will work in strategically-significant nations to support and encourage parliamentary activity and help parliamentarians to maximise their opportunities to speak out authoritatively.

The team will be led by Baroness Berridge in Westminster, who will join the University of Birmingham’s staff, and Dr Andrew Davies in Birmingham. Professor Francis Davis (Birmingham) and Professor Monica Duffy Toft (Oxford) are the Initiative’s senior advisors and the project team are supported by an internationally-eminent advisory board, chaired by Professor Malcolm Evans (Bristol) and comprising UK and Commonwealth parliamentarians, academics and community leaders.