Parliamentary Seminar on Freedom of Religion and Belief

Source: Freedom to Believe

The UK Baha’i community, working with the All Party Parliamentary Friends of the Baha’is, has held the first of three seminars on the theme of “freedom of religion and belief” in the UK Parliament.

The aim of the seminars is to promote a wider debate and acceptance of this basic human right which was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 25th November 1981. The seminars coincide with the 25th anniversary of the proclamation.

This first seminar was held on 24th July and was attended by a wide variety of organizations, including the Minority Rights Group, Forum 18, UK Friends of the Falun Gong, Three Faiths Forum, the Jain Samaj and the British Humanist Association, as well as the Baha’i community of the United Kingdom and Members of the UK Parliament.

Issues that were debated included:

  • The question of faith schools and the degree to which they protect a religious community and whether they act as a bar to religious choice.
  • How states who claim to be tolerant of religious diversity, but are not, can be addressed by the international community.
  • A statement that was offered on reports of organ harvesting and other repression of members of the Falun Gong in China.
  • How do we define what is a religion, and are there parameters. Should we accept different interpretations within a religion that represent the extremist view of that religion?
  • Can new machinery and resources be made available to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom and Religion?
  • Can the 1981 declaration be made into an obligation?

Barney Leith, Secretary for External Affairs of the Baha’i community of the UK, stated that while the world-wide Baha’i community has a good understanding of the importance of freedom of religion and belief through its own experiences, the series of seminars is to promote a better understanding of this freedom as a universal human right. He invited those attending to take a copy of the Baha’i International Community’s statement, Freedom to Believe, which sets out the Baha’i position on this particular right. Barney Leith also called for human rights education to be given greater prominence in the British educational system.


Baha’i World News Service report of the first seminar
Anniversary Event in Prague
Universal Declaration on Human Rights
Barney Leith’s blog. [Relevant entries: 1 2]

One thought on “Parliamentary Seminar on Freedom of Religion and Belief”

  1. Occasionally I like to ramble on about something, often developing or changing my own view point as I go, and I have chosen this to be one of those occasions.

    Baha’is hold a lot of seminars and conferences on extremely important topics, I have attended many, yet it is rare to read of achievements associated with such events, in fact it is quite rare for any report to be made of most events, any organiser other than the National Spiritual Assembly is usually keen to use official Baha’i news channels to promote attendance of their events but they have historically been much less cooperative in providing reports afterward.

    With Baha’i organised seminars there is no option to change a law or to enshrine a new principle into the way that many live their lives, it can only ever be a forum for people to examine the issues associated with a particular subject. Key to how successful an event may be in the long term is the number of people who attend such a meeting who are in a position of relevant influence, however small that influence may be.

    As two extreme examples, I have attended a law conference where little was discussed beyond the idea that if you are a lawyer and a Baha’i then you should practise law in accordance with your Baha’i principles. The conference was attended mostly by very dedicated Baha’is, the majority of whom were lawyers. I don’t imagine it had a major impact on the field of law in the region, though it was a fun conference. At the other exxtreme I attended a seminar on Social Cohesion which was attended by, among many others, police and social workers who were able to bring real problems to the table and take concrete ideas back to the field they worked in. You probably cannot ever know how succesful a seminar of this nature has been.

    What is particularly inspiring for a Baha’i is to see how the Baha’i principles are of real value and inspiration to others in these scenarios. Many Baha’is grow up reading books by Shoghi Effendi and ‘Abdul-Baha while paying attention to the exciting vision contained therein, and we don’t take particular notice of all the detail we are reading. When you find yourself in a seminar with people who are not Baha’is but who face real-world problems you start to realise just how many details you have absorbed from the Baha’i Writings, just one of which may have potential for a huge possitive impact in society. Thankfully the fact the many of the Baha’i ideals have been put to work in service projects or other situations around the world gives other people confidence that they are gaining knowledge and experience from a concrete and viable source rather than what may be percieved as a more mystical eastern religion.

    One day people will talk of Shoghi Effendi’s works and find that most of his ideals are in place taken for granted, but for now it is us Baha’is, particularly those who have read some books and taken part in some projects, who continue to take for granted knowledge which the rest of the world, though they have no way of recognising it yet, are yearning for.

    While there are a few events I have attended where it has been clear that thoughts had at least been provoked, I have been to many more which felt like public displays of intellect with no purpose, or reinforcements that Baha’is should live by the standards of their Faith and not of other people. Perhaps the key to having the sense of an outcome is in taking on a problem, especially a big one, and tackling it at a very practical level. Or perhaps it is just that seeing peoples minds open up to new possibilities and finding possible avenues of action for difficult scenarios rings my bell more.

    I think that’s enough commenting for now.

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