“International religious freedom has received greater attention across the political and social spectrum,” says an analysis piece published today by Lapido Media.
One sign of this, it says, is the recent honour given to Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos, appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen for his services to international religious freedom.
‘Greater acknowledgment of this issue,’ Angaelos told Lapido, ‘is fitting within the UK’s understanding of what it means to safeguard human rights.’
It was ‘imperative’, he added, for both individuals and nations to protect them.
There are signs the UK government is getting the message.
According to the Pew Research Center, 76 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion.
The 2011 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report on Human Rights and Democracy found that religious freedom was ‘crucial to ensuring conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding.’ It has since been updated to include ‘countries of particular concern’, numbering 27 in the most recent edition.
Put negatively, the June 2015 volume of the Harvard International Law Journal noted ‘nations that criminalise blasphemy tend to foster an environment where terrorism is more prevalent, legitimised, and insidious.’
The FCO report insists it is ‘important’ to secure religious freedom as part of the government’s ‘wider security agenda’.
The APPG report ‘Article 18: An Orphaned Right’ contains ten recommendations to the government on how to ‘mainstream’ a religious freedom approach into foreign policy.
One year later Baroness Warsi chaired the first meeting for the Foreign Office Advisory Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief, fulfilling recommendation three.
An additional three have been positively acted upon, with evidence suggesting all have been considered.
But is advice enough? Do reports translate into policy?
Lord Alton continues to push the debate. His own view is clear: ‘Countries have to make the cause of those who suffer for their religion or belief the great cause of our times,’ he wrote in GIS.
‘Christians, Jews and Muslims privileged to live in free societies have to challenge cold indifference and speak up and defend humanity.’