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 :

Faith, Secularism & Human Rights

Article in the Canadian Lawyer: "Faith, Secularism & Human Rights"

"While it is easy to grasp the need for protection of the right to practise one’s faith in order to avoid religious persecution, recent events involving religious extremism and reactions to real and perceived — or misperceived — extremism have highlighted other tensions and challenges that involve the state. In addition, with the recent announcement of the creation of Canada’s new Office for Religious Freedom, it seems like an opportune moment to reflect on the connection between faith, secularism, and human rights. "

Read the article at:

Faith Schools

Interesting article in the TES about increasing numbers of faith schools.

An Answer from Above? How the Church of England could become the driving force in state education

Reaction from Atheist and Humanist Society (and British Humanist Society)

"The British Humanist Association (BHA) has voiced its strong opposition to the proposals, writing with urgency to Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and to all BHA members and supporters, describing the plans as ‘the single most threatening development in the area of ‘faith’ schools since their expansion began in 2001’.Obviously, we at the AHS are greatly concerned by the prospect of faith schools multiplying in the UK...which is why we echo the BHA'S call to arms."

Monday, 2 January 2012


The new year brings a new focus for ThinkRights. Previously I posted on human rights issues in the public and private sphere. Whilst I will still explore human rights these general areas, from hereon particular focus will be placed upon the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Please see page "Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion" for more information about this particular right.