Monday, 10 December 2012

Human Rights Day 10/12/12

Today is Human Rights Day!

"Human Rights Day presents an opportunity, every year, to celebrate human rights, highlight a specific issue, and advocate for the full enjoyment of all human rights by everyone everywhere."

Make your voice count: #VoiceCount

Read more at:

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Can a request for a haircut raise human rights issues?

Here is a link to an intriguing article I noticed:

According to the Ontario Star, "[a] request for a lunch-hour haircut has turned into a battle over human rights, pitting freedom of religion against a woman’s right not to be denied service based on her gender."

Briefly, Faith McGregor, who wanted a man's haircut (the "businessman") was turned away from a barber shop because the barber's faith (Islam) prevented him from touching a woman who is not a member of his own family.

Despite being offered a haircut by an alternative barber,the problem was not resolved. McGregor remains committed to taking the case to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario because, she says, "this needs to be discussed and now it’s bigger than what occurred with me that one day, in one afternoon."

Pascale Demers, a spokesman for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said that this matter is one in an increasing number of “competing rights” cases seen by the Human Rights Tribunal.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

United Nations Day 24th October

United Nations Day, on 24th October, marks the entry into force of the UN Charter in 1945.

"UN Day 2012 is an opportunity for us to celebrate the UN's achievements, reflect on the challenges it faces and show our support for this indispensable organisation. Only by doing so can we encourage our governments to work together for a strong, credible and effective United Nations."

The UNA UK has released a poster series to support UN day 24th October. Posters are available at

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sexual discrimination and religious orientation

Another case concerning the potential conflict between the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation and the right to religious freedom.

Black & Morgan v. Wilkinson (unreported, 18 October 2012, Slough County Court)

The Christian owner of a B&B in Berkshire was found to have discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to allow them stay in a double-bedded room because of her belief that all sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong.
See comment and analysis at

Friday, 19 October 2012

Freedom of Religion posts from SSRC

Protecting Freedom of Religion in a Secular Age

Contradictions of religious freedom and religious repression

Religious Discrimination in US

Data on religious discrimination in America

Here's the conclusion: "however you read these data it's clear that religion is still important in the West. In fact, religion is important enough for governments to take increasing steps to try to protect it."

Epiphenom: religion and democracy

Intriguing article on the relationship between religion and democracy. It discusses the new analysis by Pazit
Ben-Nun Bloom and Gizem Arikan, political scientists at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"What they found was that strong religious belief was linked to a rejection of secular/rational values, in favour of traditional values, and also to rejection of self-expression, in favour of 'survival values' (a hotch-potch of insecurity, desire for hierarchical authority, and intolerance). These, in turn, lead to a rejection not just of overt support for democracy, but also a rejection of the values that make democracy work (things like civil rights and support for democratic procedures)."

Read the article at: Epiphenom: A love-hate relationship between religion and democracy

Research on Religion

Critical Religion Research Group (University of Stirling)

The Religious Studies Project

Interesting podcasts on religion are available at

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Atheists and the Scouts Promise

Latest from the British Humanist Association:

11 year-old banned from joining the Scouts for refusing to pledge allegiance to God

"George Pratt, from Midsomer Norton in Somerset, refuses to make the Scout Promise, in which new members are required to swear allegiance to God and the Queen, because of his atheist beliefs. As a result, he cannot be invested as a full member of the Scout group which meets opposite his home...."
Read the full story at:

Friday, 12 October 2012

Ultra Orthodox Jewish Education

The issue of faith schools is becoming an ever debated area given the recent developments. (See my earlier post:

The Court of Appeal has recently ruled that Ultra Orthodox Jewish education is not in the best interests of the child. See G (Children), Re [2012] EWCA Civ 1233

This is a particularly interesting case as it includes a discussion of happiness and the good life, the welfare of the child and the benefits of secular education.

Karwan Eskerie has commented in some detail on this case in the UK Human Rights blog:

It is interesting to note that on the flip side of this concern about faith schools or perhaps too much religious education, there are serious concerns about academies and particular the Baccalaureate omitting Religious Education/Studies from the curriculum. (See my earlier post: )

Religion and Belief Workshop

I attended the following workshop in Manchester yesterday:

Religion and belief, discrimination and equality: a decade of change?
Knowledge Exchange Workshop 

This was a free workshop to discuss the preliminary findings of the latest University of Derby, Religion and Society project.

The following is taken from their website:

During the last three years we have been researching how people's views of unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief may have changed over the last decade. It is hoped that our findings will ultimately influence policies, practices and laws.

The workshops will share our research findings and provide you with an opportunity to contribute to them, in the light of the experience of your organisation or group.

To find out more about the project please visit:

To participate in a workshop please see:

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

PRME Business and Human Rights Webinar

Excellent webinar available on the PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education) website.

There were 40 participants from 3 continents who listened to presentations by Jonas Haertle, Head of the PRME Secretariat and the UN Global Compact, Tom Hickey of Hess Corporation, and Anthony Ewing of Columbia Business School and Logos Consulting.

Please see link below:

PRME are currently gauging interest in a Working Group on Human Rights. . If anyone is interested in contributing this this effort, please contact at

Thursday, 27 September 2012

United Nations Association (UNA-UK) Petition

From the UNA UK website:

Ahead of UN Day – 24 October 2012 – we are asking UNA-UK and all those interested in the UN to pledge their support for the Organisation by signing the petition below:

Sunday, 23 September 2012

British Institute of Human Rights #Act Campaign

ONLY A WEEK TO GO before the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights closes its public consultation!

The British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) launched #Act at the beginning of September, a new campaign to engage people in debates about the protection of our human rights.

According to Stephen Bowen, Director of BIHR:

The Human Rights Act is a bit like our health, we don't value it until it’s gone. So let's not wait until it’s too late to speak up, let's raise our voices together. 

Find out more at:

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Human Rights = Totalitarianism?

From John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor at the The Telegraph:

Human rights 'agenda' is new totalitarianism Rt Rev Nazir-Ali warns ECtHR judges

"In a powerful submission to the judges, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, warns of a distorted “human rights agenda” which he likens to the atheist communist regimes in Eastern Europe which also suppressed Christianity by preventing public manifestations of faith.

Unless basic Christian values are upheld, human rights will become “another inhuman ideology”, like the totalitarian regimes of the past, suppressing individuals, he says.

Lord Lester, QC, the Liberal Democrat peer and leading human rights lawyer, insists that expressions of religious faith should not be given special treatment over beliefs based on philosophy or “rational analysis”. In a submission to the court on behalf of the National Secular Society, he warns that giving workers a right to wear a cross could create a “hierarchy of rights” and could make it impossible for employers to ban other “grossly offensive” symbols.

See the full article at:

British Institute of Human Rights Tour #16cities

The BIHR tour started in Cardiff on 17th September 2012. See their blog post for details:

At the end of the conference participants decorated pieces of bunting to add to the growing BIHR human rights bunting which is to be put up outside the Houses of Parliament as part of the campaign against the proposed Bill of Human Rights.

Here's a particularly good piece of bunting which was selected by the BIHR to put on their website:

Blasphemy Law in Pakistan

From the Church Times: 

Pakistan urged to stop blasphemy law’s ‘massive human-rights violations’
"PAKISTAN is being urged to set up a commission to investigate the "tragic consequences" of its blasphemy law and "suggest a way out of this difficult and embarrassing situation".

The call came in a communiqué issued on 19 September by the World Council of Churches after a series of public hearings in Geneva."

See the full article at

A current case involves a teenage girl, Rimsha Masih, who faces the death penalty after being accused of burning pages of the Qur'an. Rimsha Masih, was charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws back in August this year. See

Four British Christians to go to the ECtHR

Here's a summary from the BBC outlining the cases:

Nadia Eweida, a Pentecostal Christian from Twickenham, south-west London, who was sent home by her employer British Airways in 2006 after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross

Devon-based nurse Shirley Chaplin, who was moved to a desk job by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital for similar reasons

Gary McFarlane, a Bristol relationship counsellor, who was sacked by Relate after saying on a training course he might have had a conscientious objection to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples

Registrar Lilian Ladele, who was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies in north London

Each individual had made a separate application to the court, but the cases are being heard together.

Taken from:

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

World Humanitarian Day on Sunday 19th August

The following is taken from the United Nations Association website

Everyone can be a humanitarian - World Humanitarian Day 2012

19 August is World Humanitarian Day and the UN is asking us all to become humanitarians by pledging to do something good - anything from helping a neighbour with their shopping to volunteering for a local organisation to supporting international relief efforts.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

American Perspective on International Religious Freedom

The following article written by Denis McDonough, the Deputy National Security Advisor is taken from the White House blog:

'International Religious Freedom: A Human Right, A National Security Issue, A Foreign Policy Priority'

The Department of State released its annual report on the state of international religious freedom around the globe. This can be accessed at:

Secretary Hilary Clinton's remarks on the release of the report at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peaceare also available:

Here is an extract: "Religious freedom provides a cornerstone for every healthy society. It empowers faith-based service. It fosters tolerance and respect among different communities. And it allows nations that uphold it to become more stable, secure and prosperous.” – Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Religion & Belief Project

Religion & Belief, Discrimination and Equality in England and Wales
Research Project: University of Derby

Five knowledge exchange workshops are being held in Autumn this year in Derby, Oxford, Manchester, Cardiff and London.
Find out more:

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Cameron on wearing crosses at work

Christians will be able to wear crosses to work under changes to the law promised yesterday by David Cameron.
Mr Cameron said he that he was fully supportive of employees' right to wear religious symbols at work, adding: "I think it is an absolutely vital freedom."

See the Telegraph article below:

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Religious Freedom Legislation in Italy

June 14, 2012, Rome, Italy 

"A group of experts in Italy has said that, although religious freedom in Italy is protected by international covenants and conventions, new legislation to protect religious minorities is necessary to replace the fascist law of 1929-1930. This conclusion was reached during a Study Day held at Italy's Chamber of Deputies, May 15, in Rome. The study was organized by the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy (CFIB), the Board of Evangelical Churches for Relations with the State (ESRAB), and the Department of Religious Freedom of the Italian Union of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (UICCA)."

Monday, 4 June 2012

Right to wear a cross? Case to be heard at ECHR

Update on the case of Shirley Chaplain:

"A Devon nurse who refused to stop wearing a cross at work is to argue her case at the European Court of Human Rights in September, she says.

Shirley Chaplin worked at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital when, after a 30-year career on the wards, she was told she could no longer wear a cross.

The 56-year-old is taking the case to the Strasbourg court after losing an employment tribunal in 2010." 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Protection of Atheists in Human Rights Instruments

The below is taken from:

Should atheists be explicitly protected in human rights instruments?
May 31, 2012 by Rosalind English

Writing on the Richard Dawkins website, humanist campaigner Leo Igwe-Ieet declares that there is a gaping hole in the protections listed in international rights instruments.

I have heard it proclaimed at the UN that the rights of women are human rights. I have also heard it proclaimed that the rights of gay people are human rights. These proclamations changed the way human rights are perceived around the globe. Personally I have yet to hear it proclaimed at UN, or at our regional and national human rights bodies that the rights of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers are human rights. I do not want these rights to be implied or assumed as currently the case in most countries. I want them to be expressly declared as universal human rights.

The reason why such explicit protection is urgently needed, the writer claims, is because non-believers are particularly vulnerable in some parts of the world, notably Africa. In parts of Africa where fundamentalist belief holds sway, “religious non-believers are treated as if they are not human beings, as if they do not exist or do not have the right to exist.” The right to freedom of religion is of no avail to those who wish to eschew faith altogether. On the contrary, freedom of religion is often understood as freedom to profess a religion-the religion sanctioned by the state, by one’s family or community- not freedom to change one’s religion or freedom not to profess any religion at all as contained in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Leo Igwe is well qualified to take a position on this issue. He was the Western and Southern African representative to IHEU, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, working to end a variety of human rights violations that are rampant in Africa, including homophobia, witchcraft, “child witch” superstition, ritual killing, human sacrifice, “untouchability”, and anti-blasphemy laws. He points out in another post that witchcraft is the very manifestation of lethal superstition that Christianity has fostered in some parts of Africa, reminding us of the tragic death in the UK of 15 year old Congolese boy Kristy Bamu, tortured to death by family members who believed he was a ‘witch’ and that he should be suffered not to live as stated in the Christian holy book.

What Kristy Bamu went through in the UK is what many children, women and elderly persons across Africa are suffering at this moment.

Whilst such an extension to the European Convention, or the various Bills of Rights sections of national constitutions across Europe, may seem an unnecessary luxury, there is certainly a case for fortifying the protection of such people via the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the South African Bill of Rights and possibly even the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Would it make much of a difference? Probably not, but it would certainly lend legal clout to anti-witchcraft campaigns, and give defendants in anti-blasphemy prosecutions something with which to shield themselves.

It is not such a far-fetched question and certainly worth pondering, even in the “enlightened” West, where fundamentalism threatens to encroach on many freedoms.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Bloggers Unite for Basic Human Rights

See below for:

Thanks to you, May marks the first anniversary of Bloggers Unite and this time we're launching an awareness campaign chosen by BlogCatalog members. On May 15, let's unite for human rights and make a statement that all people are born with basic rights and freedoms - life, liberty, and justice!

On May 15th 2008, let's come together and all blog about Human Rights. There are dozens and dozens of human rights issues that you can write about. The one you choose is up to you.

The wrongful imprisonment of journalists covering assemblies.
Governments that ignore the plight of citizens left tot he mercy of gangs.
The censorship of the Internet in order to prevent freedom of expression.
Harsh punishments that include torture, forced labor, and starvation.
Sexual assault against women by members of military or militia.


There are many organizations that promote human rights and work to protect people. We've picked three to help you learn more and find breaking topics.
Amnesty International ( is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. They work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity.
Human Right Watch ( is dedicated to protecting human rights of people around the world. They stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, uphold political freedom, protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice.
Youth For Human Rights ( is an independent non-profit that educates people about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so they become valuable advocates for tolerance and peace.

We have an entire group discussion dedicated to Bloggers Unite ( where you can add more organizations that you think are worth including.

To join, simply visit the Bloggers Unite page ( to get more information. Then, on Thursday, May 15th, write a blog post that shares awareness about human rights.

Your blog post could:
Have the title "Bloggers Unite For Human Rights" (or some variation).
include an example of human rights so people can learn about it.
Explain the importance of human rights and how it applies to everyone.
Link to one of the sites we've listed or the most suitable site for your country.
And add a link to our BlogCatalog Community Human Rights Awareness Campaign page so we can give you and your blog credit for being part of it.

If you have any questions, please e-mail And please, don't forget to tell your friends to blog about this too. Together, I know we can raise awareness and prove bloggers can do good!Regards
Afzal Khan
Professional Blogger - Proud Member BlogCatalog Community Human Rights Awareness Campaign

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The High Court's decision on Christian Advertising on the radio

London Christian Radio Ltd and Anor v Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) and Secretary of State for Culture

The High Court has upheld the refusal of the broadcasting regulator to clear an advertisement for transmission on the grounds that it offended the prohibition on political advertising. This restriction, said Silber J, was a necessary one for the purposes of Article 10(2) of the European Convention. The purpose of the ban on political advertising was to protect the public from the potential mischief of partial political advertising, and the views of the advertiser, as to whether an advertisement was political, were irrelevant.

Read article at:

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Lord Carey on Christianity

Lord Carey says worshippers are being “vilified” by the state, treated as “bigots” and sacked simply for expressing their beliefs.

The attack is part of a direct appeal to the European Court of Human Rights before a landmark case on religious freedom. In a written submission seen by The Daily Telegraph, the former leader of more than 70 million Anglicans warns that the outward expression of traditional conservative Christian values has effectively been “banned” in Britain under a new “secular conformity of belief and conduct”.
His comments represent one of the strongest attacks on the impartiality of Britain’s judiciary from a religious leader.
He says Christians will face a “religious bar” to employment if rulings against wearing crosses and expressing their beliefs are not reversed.
Lord Carey argues that in “case after case” British courts have failed to protect Christian values. He urges European judges to correct the balance.
The hearing, due to start in Strasbourg on Sept 4, will deal with the case of two workers forced out of their jobs over the wearing of crosses as a visible manifestation of their faith. It will also take in the cases of Gary McFarlane, a counsellor sacked for saying that he may not be comfortable in giving sex therapy to homosexual couples, and a Christian registrar, who wishes not to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.
Lord Carey, who was archbishop from 1991 to 2002, warns of a “drive to remove Judaeo-Christian values from the public square”. Courts in Britain have “consistently applied equality law to discriminate against Christians”.
They show a “crude” misunderstanding of the faith by treating some believers as “bigots”. He writes: “In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by State bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong.
“It affects the moral and ethical compass of the United Kingdom. Christians are excluded from many sectors of employment simply because of their beliefs; beliefs which are not contrary to the public good.”
He outlines a string of cases in which he argues that British judges have used a strict reading of equality law to strip the legally established right to freedom of religion of “any substantive effect”.
“It is now Christians who are persecuted; often sought out and framed by homosexual activists,” he says. “Christians are driven underground. There appears to be a clear animus to the Christian faith and to Judaeo-Christian values. Clearly the courts of the United Kingdom require guidance.”
He says the human rights campaign has gone too far and become a political agenda.
Keith Porteous-Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “The idea that there is any kind of suppression of religion in Britain is ridiculous.
“Even in the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to religious freedom is not absolute – it is not a licence to trample on the rights of others. That seems to be what Lord Carey wants to do.”

Taken from: Telegraph

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Thinktank Report: Religion and Politics

Religious people are more likely to be leftwing, says thinktank Demos. Research undermines commonly held view that faith group members are more conservative. See comment on the Guardian:

Court attendance and religious obligations

This week, in a 4-3 judgment, the Court ruled against a violation of the freedom of religion of Mr. Sessa, a lawyer and member of the Jewish faith, unable to attend a court hearing scheduled on Yom Kippur. The case is Francesco Sessa v. Italy. After two recent steps forward in freedom of religion cases the Court with this case takes several steps back. Fortunately, the dissenting opinion leaves the door open for future reasonable accommodation cases.

See rest of comment from Strasbourg Observers:

Access to Religious Site in Cyprus

"UN expert urges end to restrictions on access to religious sites on divided Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus — More needs to be done to allow worshippers free and unfettered access to religious sites on the ethnically divided island of Cyprus, a U.N. expert said Thursday.
Heiner Bielefeldt, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, said the situation has improved some after crossings linking the island’s minority Turkish-speaking north and its majority Greek-speaking south were opened nine years ago.
This has allowed Muslim Turkish Cypriots to visit holy sites in the south, and Orthodox Christian Greek Cypriots to do so in the north. But Bielefeldt, who presented the preliminary findings of his eight-day fact finding mission, said restrictions are still in place, especially where religious sites are situated in military-controlled areas in northern Cyprus.

“Freedom of religion ... is a right, not an act of mercy,” said Bielefeldt, a human rights professor at Germany’s Erlangen-Nurnberg University and a former director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution.

The Mediterranean island was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state in 1983, but it is only recognized by Turkey, which maintains 35,000 troops there. The island joined the European Union in 2004, but membership benefits are enjoyed only by the internationally-recognized south. Talks aimed at reunifying the island have made little progress since they began in 2008. Bielefeldt said the island’s approximately 2,000 Maronite Christians are still prevented from visiting some churches and cemeteries in northern villages because they are within Turkish military zones. He also said derelict Orthodox Christian churches and cemeteries across the north, including areas such as the northeastern Karpas peninsula have been vandalized, looted or left to crumble.

“Vandalism is unacceptable, terrible, and it hurts people’s feelings, and that was very clear when I had the opportunity to talk to people in the Karpas region,” said Bielefeldt.
He said Muslims living in the south expressed concern at the lack of religious education and a lack of funding for the maintenance of mosques and cemeteries. He criticized Cyprus authorities for deporting asylum seekers — especially of the Baha’i faith — despite risks that they will be persecuted for their religious beliefs. Bielefeldt also urged Greek Cypriot education authorities to incorporate more information in the school curriculum about different religions and beliefs."

Taken from:

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Religious freedom

"Do we want freedom from religion or freedom for religion? Professor Derek Burke, former Vice Chancellor of UEA, examines the arguments presented in Norwich recently by Prof Roger Trigg.

A recent letter to The Times (March 19, 2012), from Tom McIntyre, described one view of the present situation: “But … already nurses can lose their livelihood if religious conscience forbids them to help with abortions. Innkeepers are prosecuted if religious conscience forbids them to accommodate gay couples. Adoption agencies have to close down if religious conscience forbids them to allow gay couples to adopt children in their care….. Religious conscience has no rights.”

This was the issue addressed by Professor Roger Trigg of Oxford University at the 2012 Keswick Hall Lecture at the University of East Anglia on March 21. Indeed, as Western Europe becomes more secular, will religion be seen as purely a private affair, which should not have any direct influence on public life?

Recently the remains of an unknown Saxon woman, buried in 680 AD, was found to be wearing a cross. So we know she was a Christian, but for how much longer? The courts have recently said that wearing a cross is not an obligation of Christian faith – we can choose to wear it or not – and since some might object, crosses should not be worn. Surely, Roger Trigg argued, we should allow those who want to do something which matters very much to them to do it, even though we might disagree?

The Council of Europe has said that separation of Church and State is ‘one of Europe's shared values’ (not true of course), and that religious principles must not limit human rights. Roger Trigg argued that such categorical statements must be challenged; otherwise they will be accepted by default. Surely religion is a foundation of human rights, so “secular rights” should not trump “religious rights”.

Roger Trigg argued that religious freedom must protect all those who have religious views, of whatever religion. We not only have a right to believe, but a right to manifest this belief; for a false distinction has been drawn between core belief, which is private, and it’s manifestation, which is public, and so subject to the State. This is why wearing a cross has been rejected and these ideas are also influencing both the current debate on marriage, and that over Sunday working, where the State’s needs, defined in purely commercial terms, has trumped religious objections.

Why is all this happening? He suggested that it is because religion is seen as outmoded, even as a threat, to be fenced around, and kept at the margins. Religion too claims a higher authority and that also might be why it is politically unpopular. Roger Trigg instanced recent work in Oxford that shows that growing children think religiously first – their default position is theism. Roger Trigg claimed that religion is a part of what it is to be human and for this reason religion should be protected, not trumped by other views.

To summarise, freedom of religion is more than freedom to worship, and religion is more than the formal practice of worship, because inevitably it will affect the public debate. We have to decide in the UK whether we want freedom from religion, like France, or freedom for religion like the US? All faiths have a common agenda here."

Ghana: Cultural and religious beliefs and human righst abuses

The Deputy Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs, Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba, has reiterated Ghana still has a general problem with religion and culture leading to human rights abuses.

“We still have to go further to achieve the needed empowerment of women by educating the girl child and get women in certain positions to help in the development of the country” she said.

Speaking in a telephone interview on Joy News TV’s pm: EXPRESS programme, the Deputy Minister noted that the number of witches camps in northern Ghana have increased to about six within a short space of time, a development she describes as very alarming as their existence infringes on the rights of women and children.

In some parts of the Northern region, there is a belief that blames the causes of famine and outbreak of diseases such as meningitis on witchcraft with mostly women being accused of causing the outbreaks.
See story:

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Defamation of Religion: Free Speech Debate

Three human rights experts scrutinise the defamation of religion, which they argue misses the point by protecting faith rather than the often vulnerable holders of faith.

Dr Nazila Ghanea, a lecturer in international human rights law at the University of Oxford, tells Free Speech Debate that the UN resolution on the defamation of religion was “hugely problematic” because it protected faith rather than minorities. “It doesn’t protect freedom of religion or belief in any way shape or form as captured in international human rights standards,” says Ghanea. Agnes Callamard, executive director at Article 19, argues that the debate over the resolution intensified after the September 11 attacks in the US. “It was a complete product of 9/11, the war on terror and the civilisation conflict that played itself out in Geneva in the human rights council,” she says. Susan Benesch, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, adds that in her experience there is a divide between religious individuals who often conflate their religion with themselves and others, such as herself, who see a clear distinction.


Fillm banned for blasphemy now released

The only film ever banned in Britain for being blasphemous is to be released in its original, uncut form after more than two decades.

Suu Kyi in Parliament

BY Holly Williams, in Wah Thin Kha

Burma's opposition party claims Aung San Suu Kyi has won a seat in parliament after voters took to the polls in the country's by-elections.
The 66-year-old former political prisoner spent 15 years under house arrest as punishment for opposing the country's military regime.

Her release in late 2010 saw thousands of people take to the streets in Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city and former capital, in a spontaneous celebration.

Today Ms Suu Kyi visited several polling stations in Kawhmu - the constituency in which she is running.

 Dressed in red - the colour of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) -and wearing flowers in her hair, the Nobel peace prize winner chatted with voters.

Kawhmu is a poverty-stricken farming area just an hour outside Rangoon. Many local people live in flimsy bamboo huts and scrape a living growing rice and beans.

In the village of Wah Thin Kha voters began queuing shortly after dawn.

"I love her because she's so brave," said one voter, Aye Fu Hlaing

Another, Saw Hein Min Zan, said: "I voted for Aung San Suu Kyi because I trust her. I hope she can help fix problems like healthcare and education."

The NLD has 44 candidates running in a total of 45 seats being contested.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Supporters chanted the name of Aung San Suu Kyi

Ms Suu Kyi has complained of "irregularities" during the campaign, including the intimidation of candidates, and says the polls will not be free or fair.

Nevertheless, many Western governments hope the by-elections will be an important step towards democracy in Burma, not least because greater reform would allow them to relax sanctions on the country.

Economic sanctions have trapped the Burmese in poverty and isolation. Ms Suu Kyi favoured them, however, as a way of pressuring the regime.

In 2010 Burma held general elections that were widely regarded as rigged. Critics say the military-backed government is simply the former junta changed into civilian dress.

But since then hundreds of political prisoners have been released, the country is enjoying greater freedom, and Aung San Suu Kyi - the regime's former enemy - has been permitted to run for parliament.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury

There was much in the news yesterday about the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams who has announced that he is stepping down. According to the Telegraph the Archbishop of York has been named as the frontrunner to succeed Rowan Williams as the leader of the Church of England. On verra bien...

Monday, 12 March 2012

Gay Marriage: Perspectives

Interesting article on this topic from the Independent:

The Archbiship of York, John Sentamu, has again given his opinion on gay marriage. The article also includes various other views so is worth a look.

The right to wear a cross

Christians do not have a right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work, the Government is to argue in a landmark court case: “The Government submit that… the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not a manifestation of their religion or belief within the meaning of Article 9, and…the restriction on the applicants' wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not an ‘interference’ with their rights protected by Article 9.”

Friday, 9 March 2012

Liberal Democracies, pluralism and religious liberty

Here's an article from David Landrum (The Guardian)

"Charles Malik, the Christian architect of the universal declaration of human rights, battled against intense Soviet pressure to secure basic definitions of rights for groups and individuals as a protection against arbitrary state power after the end of the second world war. But what we have today is a human rights industry that exists as a totalising creed for a secular humanist agenda in which rights are no longer universal, but subjective. They favour some minority identities and disfavour others.

If anyone has any lingering doubts about the myth of secular neutrality, they should take a look at the 2012 review of human rights, launched yesterday by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The report gauges the extent to which our society is enjoying our rights through a set of protected characteristics such as race, age, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marriage and civil partnership, gender reassignment, and last (and also least), religion and belief.

The review explicitly states that religion is to be trumped in any dispute over rights claims. Really. It says that an employer "may legitimately refuse to accommodate an individual's religious beliefs where such accommodation would involve discrimination on the basis of other protected characteristics".

This is the much talked about "hierarchy of human rights" in technicolour. It follows the flawed logic of Trevor Phillips's recent comments that religious rules should end "at the door of the temple" and it makes it more difficult for Christians to be properly Christian in their everyday lives.

The review confirms the findings of last week's Clearing the Ground inquiry report from the Christian all-party parliamentary group. It found that, although much of the recent human rights legislation was introduced in the name of equality and diversity, what it actually enforces is inequality and sameness. Unsurprisingly, the report recommends that in light of such profound religious illiteracy, the commission needs urgently to be reviewed and restructured.

Whether as a reflection of the intrinsic deficiencies of the Equality Act, or as a reflection of the intrinsic deficiencies of the commission, or both, this relegation of religious freedom should concern us all.

Historically, freedom of religion or conscience is not an add-on to some imagined pre-existing rights. It is foundational. Other rights such as freedom of association, speech, assembly, movement, representation, expression etc, depend on it. James Madison once observed: "The rights of conscience … is one of the characteristics of a free people." And this was confirmed in recent debates in parliament that identified freedom of religion as the "litmus test" for emerging democracies in the Arab spring.

Our own liberal democracy desperately needs to remember that pluralism makes religious liberty more necessary, just as religious liberty makes pluralism more likely.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to politics today is that nobody really knows how to manage a diverse and fragmenting society. Reconciling the competing rights claims of different groups will always be a complex, messy and thankless task. The task is made harder by a law that bundles rights together and then treats them unequally. The law performs a double disservice when it eschews any pleas for reasonable accommodation, instead preferring to pit one group against another. But when we review the condition of human rights today, this is the situation we find. It is unsustainable.

A society that is at ease with itself should be the goal of us all. And if the Equality and Human Rights Commission is going to help achieve this, it must begin by taking freedom of religion seriously."

Relationship between Religion and Human Rights

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams spoke on Tuesday about the importance of reconnecting thinking about human rights and religious conviction. He mentioned a 'worrying gap' opening up between indivudals who followed legal codes and those who followed moral and religious intuition...

Here's the article from the Church Times:
And here's the actual text of the lecturefrom the Archbishop's website:

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Religious Education in Schools

RE under threat in schools, MPs claim

Campaigners are to form an all new party parliamentary group (APPG) to focus on protecting the subject amid fears it is being sidelined after being omitted from the list of subjects recognised by the Government’s news English Baccalaureate.
The EBacc, introduced by Education Secretary Michael Gove, is awarded to teenagers who score at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, science, a foreign language and a humanities subject - limited to history or geography.
The exclusion of RE created a storm of protest, with campaigners arguing the move could see the subject marginalised in schools.

Taken from: 

Trevor Phillips on Religion and the Law

Christians must choose between religion and obeying law, says equalities chief Trevor Phillips

Religious rules should end “at the door of the temple” and give way to the “public law” laid down by Parliament, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said.

Read the Telegraph Article:

Christian Hoteliers Discrimination Against Gay Couple

Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy [2012] EWCA Civ 83

On 10th February 2012, the Court of Appeal upheld a Judge’s ruling that a Christian couple, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, had discriminated against Martin Hall and Steven Preddy on grounds of sexual orientation when they refused them a double-bedded room at their hotel near Penzance.


Thursday, 9 February 2012

Oxford Union Religion in Politics Debate

Information on this evening's debate in the Oxford Union, taken from

"This House Believes That the Dividing Line Between Religion and Politics Should Shine Brightly"

Speakers in Proposition:
  • Keith Porteous Wood - Exec Dir of National Secular Society
  • Dr Peter Cave - Chair of Humanist Philosophers of Gt Britain
  • Rt Hon Lord Warner of Brockley - Since 2010, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group
  • Neil Dewar - Ex-Chair of the Union's Debates Selection Committee who has represented the Union all over the World
Speakers in Opposition:

  • Judge William H Pryor Jr - Federal Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
  • Prof John O McGinnis - Professor at Northwestern University School of Law and author of over 90 academic articles and essays
  • Alan Craig - Leader of Christian Peoples Alliance
  • Nick Spencer - Author, and Director of Studies at theology think-tank Theos
This Debate is kindly sponsored by The Federalist Society

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Oxford University Free Speech Debate

Excellent Free Speech Debate:

"Seize this chance to debate global free expression!"

Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Religion in Court

Religion takes a back seat to rights in court, says theologian

The courts are endangering religious freedom because the judiciary are giving it a lower priority than equality, a leading philosopher has claimed.

Religion takes a back seat to rights in court, says theologian
The European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg Photo: EPA
After studying a series of judgments throughout Britain, Europe and North America, he concluded there was a “clear trend” of judges favouring equality and non-discrimination over religious freedom.
Prof Trigg, a member of the university’s faculties of theology and philosophy, argued this was proof of how religion was coming under threat from the judiciary as part of a “hierarchy of rights”.
Prof Trigg, the founding President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, said that as a result the courts were “limiting human freedom itself”.
“Religious freedom and the right to manifest religious belief is a central part of every charter of human rights,” he said on the eve of the launch of his book on Wednesday.
“But in recent years there has been a clear trend for courts in Europe and North America to prioritise equality and non-discrimination above religion, placing the right to religious freedom in danger.
“There should not be a hierarchy of rights, but it should be possible to take account of all of them in some way.”
He added: "No State can be a functioning democracy unless it allows its citizens to manifest their beliefs about what is most important in life."
In a new book, titled Equality, Freedom and Religion, he warned of a “worrying” trend of the courts placing their own definitions of what is “core to a religion’s belief system”.
He called for the rights to be “balanced” and that “reasonable accommodation” should become a standard thought by judges.
Prof Trigg, a member of the university’s faculties of Theology and Philosophy, highlighted one case that had come before the European Court of Human Rights.
In that case a civil registrar from Islington had refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies because of her religious beliefs.

He added: “It should have been easy to find a solution here … but the need to respect the right to equality trumped the freedom of religious convictions in this instance.
“The courts seem to have taken it upon themselves to decide what is and isn’t core to belief in a particular religion.”

Coverage of this issue in Christian Concern:
Published: January 26th, 2012

Leading philosopher Roger Trigg, a Professor at Kellogg College, Oxford, has warned of an increasing tendency in UK courts to prioritise equality above religion, thereby undermining religious freedom.

Professor Trigg, who is the founding President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion,stated that: “Religious freedom and the right to manifest religious belief is a central part of every charter of human rights.”
Yet he believes that the courts are now “limiting human freedom itself”.
Professor Trigg is launching a new book, “Equality, Freedom and Religion”, which cites numerous cases where religious freedom has been denied by the courts.
These include the cases of Lillian Ladele, who refused to conduct civil partnerships in her position as an Islington registrar due to a conscientious objection, and was subsequently sacked; and Nadia Eweida, who was disciplined for visibly wearing a crucifix pendant by her employer British Airways.

Balance of Rights
There have been many concerns that, within judicial interpretations of equality law, a hierarchy of rights has developed, with some rights now being seen as more important than others. Recent court decisions have suggested that the freedom to manifest sexual orientation now trumps the freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs.
This has led to Christians losing their jobs after refusing to compromise their beliefs at work as well as Christians being stopped from being foster parents.
Yet Professor Trigg argues in his new book that the courts need to hold the different rights in balance, and that “reasonable accommodation” should be the aim of every judge.
Using the example of Lillian Ladele, he commented that: “It should have been easy to find a solution here, but the need to respect the right to equality trumped the freedom of religious convictions in this instance.”

European Court
Christian Concern has supported many individuals who have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere, including Shirley Chaplin, an NHS nurse who was told not to wear her cross at work; and Gary McFarlane, who was sacked because he mentioned that he may have a conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to homosexual men after the issue was discussed on a staff training day.
The cases of Lillian, Nadia, Gary and Shirley are all currently waiting to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.Any decision by the European Court on these cases will have huge consequences for the freedom of Christians in the UK and Europe to live by their beliefs in public.

David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron recently gave a speech in Oxford,on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, during which he proclaimed that Britain was a Christian nation and should continue to be informed by Christian moral values.
Yet, despite this, the Government has decided not to back the four Christians who have taken their cases to the European Court, but rather to argue that they were right to have been penalised.
And when asked about Eunice and Owen Johns, the Christian foster parents who were stopped from continuing to foster because of their Christian sexual ethics, the Prime Minister backed the decision of Derby Council and claimed that “Christians should be more tolerant”.

Lord Carey
The decision not to back the four cases has been heavily criticised by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who stated: “I am very disappointed for the individuals concerned who have simply followed their conscience. Such is the result of a liberal establishment that has become deeply illiberal.”
Tory MP Gary Streeter is now leading a cross-party group of parliamentarians who are conducting an inquiry into discrimination against Christians. Christian Concern, along with other organisations, has been giving extensive evidence to the enquiry.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, commented:
“I have witnessed a real restriction of religious freedom in this country in the last few years. Increasing numbers of Christians have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere. Some Christians have been threatened with disciplinary action, suspended, and even sacked for refusing to act against their consciences. This has to stop, and I believe that it will.”

Secular Schools in Morinville, Alberta

Human rights commission denies Morinville school case

Disgruntled parents directed to take complaint to school board

Donna Hunter, a former Morinville resident who is campaigning for secular education in the town, is disappointed that the Alberta Human Rights Commission has rejected a complaint she filed in December. Hunter and fellow parent Marjorie Kirsop filed complaints under Section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act because Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools wouldn�€™t exempt their children from religious education in Morinville.
Two parents say the Alberta Human Rights Commission has them going in circles in their quest to get secular schools in Morinville.
Former and current Morinville residents Donna Hunter and Marjorie Kirsop learned last week that the Alberta Human Rights Commission had refused to hear their complaints about the lack of secular schooling in Morinville.
Both filed complaints under Section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act in December after Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools said it would not allow their children to be exempt from religious education at schools in Morinville.
Sec. 11.1 of the act requires teachers to give parents notice before teaching students about sexuality, sexual orientation or religion, and requires them to let students avoid those teachings upon written request.
In a letter received by both women Thursday, Audrey Dean, acting director of the commission, said that while their complaints did seem to fall under the protections of Sec. 11.1, the commission could not rule on them as there were “concurrent forums” under which they could be addressed. She advised the women to take their complaints to that forum.

CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette
Taken from:

Ethopian Christians arrested in Saudi

The following is from taken Human Rights Watch:

Saudis Arrest Praying Christians

Ethiopian Christians Abused in Prison and Set to be Deported

Thirty-five Ethiopian Christians had gathered to pray during the advent of Christmas, in the home of one of the Ethiopians, when police burst in and arrested them. The men and women remain in prison and have been told they will be deported, including those with valid residency papers. Of those arrested, 29 were women. When they were jailed, the women were forced to strip and were subjected to a body cavity search. Officers kicked and beat the men in prison, and insulted them as “unbelievers.”

The Ethiopians, speaking via telephone from prison, said that about 10 days after being arrested, some in the group were taken to court, where they were forced to affix their fingerprints to a document without being allowed to read it. Officials told the group that they were being charged with “illicit mingling” between unmarried people of the opposite sex. In October, Saudi Arabia, together with Austria and Spain, founded the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, located in Vienna.  The Saudi government should start interreligious dialogue by ensuring toleration of freedom of all religions at home.

Also covered by BBC:

Friday, 20 January 2012

National Secular Society and Insults

The National Secular Society has submitted a response to the Police Powers Consultation, calling on the Government to remove 'insulting' from Section 5 of the Public Order Act. A change in the law would protect freedom of expression for both the religious and non-religious. It would also lay down clearer guidelines for the police and direct them to focus on more serious cases. The submission calls on the Government to recognise that the word 'insulting' sets the bar for criminal offence far too low. The risk of being arrested can in itself have a chilling effect, preventing people from expressing legitimate views. Section 5 would retain threatening and abusive conduct to cover serious offences and there are other existing laws to protect the individual.

Islamist stops university debate with threats of violence

A talk on sharia and human rights by NSS Council Member Anne Marie Waters' at Queen Mary University of London was cancelled at the last moment because of an Islamist who made serious threats against everyone there.

Political Freedom in China

In under a month, three men have been convicted and jailed for between nine and 10 years each.
Their crime? Writing articles that criticise China's political system and the Communist Party that sits at the apex of power. One more writer awaits trial....

Midwives, Abortion and Religion

Two Catholic midwives in Scotland claim supervising staff carrying out abortions breaches their human rights. They are seeking a ruling at the Court of Session that their right to conscientious objection under the 1967 Abortion Act extends to refusing to delegate, supervise and support staff involved in the work.

FOR the objection: John Deighan, Parliamentary officer for the Catholic Church in Scotland
John said the women had afundamental right to make a conscientious objection.
He argues that the case doesn’t focus on the rights and wrongs of abortion but that human rights law already allows them not to participate in abortion. He said: “Under human rights law, they have a right to freedom of conscience and the state should allow for that.”
He said their supervisory role is crucial to allowing the abortion to take place and that it involves the women directly in the process.
John said even aftercare was a problem.
He added: “It is only by virtue of the women going in for an abortion that they need that care anyway.
“By making that aftercare available, you are making the abortion possible.
“The midwives feel they are culpable. We recognise that idea in other parts of law. In a bank robbery, police wouldn’t say to the guy driving the getaway car that it was OK for him to give his friends a lift.
“They would still say there was culpability, that the driver made the robbery possible.”
Supporters of the women say that after Nuremberg, it was agreed that an immoral act wasn’t justified just because it followed the rule of law.
Deighan said: “The ultimate arbiter is the conscience.”
But he insisted: “It is not a moral evaluation of the person, it is a moral evaluation of what you are doing as a moral agent.”

AGAINST: Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society
Terry maintains a win for the women would be a retrograde step.
He said: “It is quite likely that they will win this.
“If they do, it will haveimplications in all kinds of areas of employment. People in all sorts of jobs make these kinds of conscientious objections to doing particular aspects of their job, in relation to gay people or selling alcohol, all sorts of things. It could have a catastrophic effect on the provision of services, not only in abortion butcontraception.
“It has the potential forwidespread disruption in the NHS and will have an impact on women who are exercising their legal right to abortion.”
The exception under the Abortion Act relates only to people directly involved in the abortion, not on the periphery of the procedure.
The women are attempting to widen the exception using the Human Rights Act which has been in force domestically since October 2000.
Sanderson said: “We don’t think it is right for a religiousorganisation to be able to dictate general legal policy.
“Abortion is legal in Scotland and it shouldn’t be up to people with religious objections to be able to restrict it in this way.
“If these women don’t want to be involved in any way inabortion then they should find another job in another areaof nursing

Monday, 16 January 2012

North Korea Religious Freedom Petition

Religious freedom petition to be handed to North Korean embassy

A petition calling for religious freedom is to be presented to the North Korean embassy in London later this month.

The Release International petition has amassed 48,000 signatures and is a response to the dire human rights situation in North Korea, where Christianity is banned and Christians face torture, imprisonment and even death for their faith.

Release chief executive Andy Dipper said: “Under this notoriously repressive regime Christians are among those held in prison camps, which have been likened to concentration camps. They are held there simply because of their religious beliefs.

“Thousands more live out their faith in secret to avoid detection by the authorities.”

The petition will be presented to the North Korean embassy at the end of a staged funeral procession and prayer vigil taking place on January 20.

The procession symbolises the death of freedom in North Korea under the previous leadership.

Mr Dipper continued: “Our hope is that the change in leadership following the death of Kim Jong-il will lead to greater freedom of religion and that the persecution of Christians will end.”

A copy of the petition will also be presented to Downing Street in the hope that the British Government will press for religious freedom in the closed-off country.

The day of action is the culmination of Release International’s yearlong One Day campaign calling for an end to oppression in North Korea.

It has produced a DVD, No Other God, which features the personal accounts of refugees who have escaped the country.

Mr Dipper said: “Please pray that the North Korean authorities will respond positively to the petition and understand that Christians are not a threat to their nation.

“Pray that Pyongyang, the capital, will once more be known as the 'Jerusalem of the East'.

“And please pray that believers will be free to worship Christ openly and without fear of persecution and that, One Day, revival will come to the 'Hermit Kingdom'.

Religious Tolerance Blogger

Attackers of Maldives religious tolerance blogger still at large

A Maldivian blogger who was attacked and detained after organising a protest calling for religious tolerance has been released after almost four weeks in detention, but his attackers remain at large.
Ismail Khilath Rasheed was assaulted by about 10 men opposing a peaceful demonstration he had organised in the capital, Malé, on 10 December 2011. He sustained a skull fracture after being hit with stones, but was then arrested by police a few days later.

Read the full article at:

Rastafarianism, Dreadlocks and School

"The newly appointed Bulawayo high court judge, Justice Martin Makonese has ordered the headmaster of Masiyephambili junior school in Bulawayo and the Minister of Education , Sports and Culture to enrol for lessons a four –year-old child who had been barred from attending lessons at the school because he wears dreadlocks.

The headmaster only identified as R Sibanda on Tuesday barred Mbalenhle Dube from attending Grade Zero lessons at the school because of his hairstyle.
Mbalenhle was admitted by the school for the 2012 Grade Zero class and his father Khumbulani Dube paid the necessary school fees, and purchased uniforms and books in preparation for his son’s studies.
But Dube whose son and family belong to the Rastafarian religion made an urgent high court application compelling the headmaster to allow his son to attend lessons.
In his ruling delivered on Friday, Justice Makonese said there is no lawful basis for the respondents to interfere with the minor child’s right to education based on his long hair that expresses his religious beliefs.
“The verbal communication by 1st and 2nd respondents directing that the minor’s hair be cut be declared to be null and void and of no legal consequences .The respondents be and are hereby perpetually interdicted from interfering in any way with the child‘s access to education on the basis of his long hair,” said Justice Makonese in his judgement delivered in his chambers.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) lawyer Lizwe Jamela represented Dube while Sibanda and the minister were represented by a lawyer from Calderhood, Bryce Hendrie and Partners."

Article taken from:

Religion and the armed forces: Forthcoming decision at ECtHR

European Court of Human Rights set for key rulings...

Forthcoming case concerning right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion:


"Feti Demirtaş v. Turkey (no. 5260/07)

The applicant, Mr Feti Demirtaş, is a Turkish national who was born in 1981 and lives in Istanbul. He was baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness at the age of 20 and refuses to perform his military service.

He has declared his willingness to perform alternative civilian service. Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Demirtaş complains of an endless series of prosecutions and convictions on account of his refusal to wear military uniform.

He also alleges that he was subjected to various forms of inhuman and degrading treatment in Şirinyer military prison, in his military unit in Erzurum and in Balıkesir military prison.

He further contends that his successive convictions for refusing to serve in the armed forces amounted to a violation of Article 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion). Relying also on Article 6 (right to a fair trial), he complains of being forced, as a civilian, to appear before a court made up exclusively of army officers."

Council of Europe Press release
Taken from:

Sharia Law and Human Rights

Taken from The Guardian:

Sharia law compatible with human rights, argues leading barrister
Sadakat Kadri said religious courts such as the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, could serve the community as a whole.

A leading barrister has called for the UK to become more sharia-literate, while arguing that Islamic law can be compatible with the toughest human rights legislation.
Sadakat Kadri told the Guardian that so-called "sharia courts", such as the Muslim arbitration tribunal, could serve "the community as a whole" by putting Sharia on a transparent, public footing and should be more widely accessible to those who want to use them.
Kadri said they played a role in safeguarding human rights: "It's very important that they be acknowledged and allowed to exist. So long as they're voluntary, which is crucial, it's in everyone's interests these things be transparent and publicly accessible. If you don't have open tribunals, they're going to happen anyway, but behind closed doors."
In 2008, Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, sparked controversy when he appeared to suggest that sharia law should be more widely adopted.
In fact, under the Arbitration Act 1996, the rulings of religious bodies, including the Muslim arbitration tribunal, already have legal force in disputes involving matters such as inheritance and divorce.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, has long opposed the use of sharia in the UK, and argued the rule of law "must not be compromised by the introduction of a theocratic legal system operating in parallel".
He said: "There can be no convincing case made for it to have even a toe-hold in western societies that have developed a mature and far superior legal system. I regard any legal system based on a theocratic model as being dangerous and innately unjust. There is no escaping the fact – whatever interpretation you put on it — that sharia treats women differently from men"
But Kadri, a barrister and contemporary of Barack Obama at Harvard Law School, stresses the ability of sharia to adapt and change. He sets out the history of sharia in a book, Heaven and Earth, to be published next week. He describes the slow development of sharia law, which many assume to be derived directly from the Qur'an, in the centuries after the death of Muhammad.
"After 7/7," he said, "people were saying the sharia is all about violence, it's all about chopping people's hands off, it's all about stoning adulterers to death. Others said it's nothing to do with that, Islam is a religion of peace. Clearly both of those things were true at a certain level, but very early on I just realised no one had a clue what sharia said about this or that."
Sharia, which means "path" in Arabic, is the name Muslims give to a wide-ranging collection of ethical and legal principles that believers are expected to observe. It includes prohibitions on certain foods and alcohol, as well as the obligation to visit Mecca and give to charity.
"I'm not a theologian," said Kadri. "But this is my interpretation of Islamic history. There's a mistaken belief that Islamic law is a vast unchanging body of rules – 1,400 years of Muslim history shows that little could be further from the truth."
"It's really important that the Muslim community engage with its actual history, as well as idealised traditions. If that's to take root, critical engagement with the past among young Muslims will be crucially important."
Kadri points out that many of the punishments associated in people's minds with sharia law have only been applied very recently. "I try to show how it's only really in the last 40 years, since Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, but more especially since the Iranian revolution in 1979 that the idea of enforcing Islamic rules through national laws has come to the fore. Before 1973, it was only Saudi Arabia which actually did that."


Monday, 9 January 2012

Pope Bendict XVI on Religious Freedom

Vatican Radio: Pope Benedict: the financial crisis and religious freedom at the heart of the Pope's discourse to diplomats

"Pope Benedict XVI on Monday received in audience the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See and pronounced his annual "State of the World" address.

...In this perspective. it is clear that an effective educational programme also calls for respect for religious freedom. This freedom has individual, collective and institutional dimensions. We are speaking of the first of human rights, for it expresses the most fundamental reality of the person. All too often, for various reasons, this right remains limited or is flouted. I cannot raise this subject without first paying tribute to the memory of the Pakistani Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, whose untiring battle for the rights of minorities ended in his tragic death. Sadly, we are not speaking of an isolated case. In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes. At times they are forced to leave the countries they have helped to build because of persistent tensions and policies which frequently relegate them to being second-class spectators of national life. In other parts of the world, we see policies aimed at marginalizing the role of religion in the life of society, as if it were a cause of intolerance rather than a valued contribution to education in respect for human dignity, justice and peace. In the past year religiously motivated terrorism has also reaped numerous victims, especially in Asia and in Africa; for this reason, as I stated in Assisi, religious leaders need to repeat firmly and forcefully that “this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction”. Religion cannot be employed as a pretext for setting aside the rules of justice and of law for the sake of the intended “good”. In this context I am proud to recall, as I did in my native country, that the Christian vision of man was the true inspiration for the framers of Germany’s Basic Law, as indeed it was for the founders of a united Europe. I would also like to bring up several encouraging signs in the area of religious freedom. I am referring to the legislative amendment whereby the public juridical personality of religious minorities was recognized in Georgia; I think too of the sentence of the European Court of Human Rights upholding the presence of the crucifix in Italian schoolrooms. It is also appropriate for me to make particular mention of Italy at the conclusion of the 150th anniversary of her political unification. Relations between the Holy See and Italy experienced moments of difficulty following the unification. In the course of time, however, concord and the mutual desire for cooperation, each within its proper domain, prevailed for the promotion of the common good. I hope that Italy will continue to foster a stable relationship between Church and State, and thus serve as an example to which other nations can look with respect and interest.

On the continent of Africa, to which I returned during my recent visit to Benin, it is essential that cooperation between Christian communities and Governments favour progress along the path of justice, peace and reconciliation, where respect is shown for members of all ethnic groups and all religions. It is painful to realize that in different countries of the continent this goal remains distant. I think in particular of the renewed outbreak of violence in Nigeria, as we saw from the attacks against several churches during the Christmas period, the aftermath of the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire, the continuing instability in the Great Lakes region and the humanitarian emergency in the countries of the Horn of Africa. I once again appeal to the international community to make every effort to find a solution to the crisis which has gone on for years in Somalia.

Finally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation. We cannot disregard the grave natural calamities which in 2011 affected various regions of South-East Asia, or ecological disasters like that of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development. For this reason, I hope that, pursuant to the XVII session of the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change recently concluded in Durban, the international community will prepare for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio + 20”) as an authentic “family of nations” and thus with a great sense of solidarity and responsibility towards present and future generations...."

Taken from :