Andy Walton looks at whether there is a "Religious Right" emerging in Britain
The Independent: After 103 years, organisation changes oath to welcome 'all girls, of all faiths, and none'
The Global Charter of Conscience
29th June 2012
Support is growing for the Global Charter of Conscience, launched at the European Parliament on 21st June, promoting freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief for all. This declaration, which Dr Os Guiness has overseen, promotes a civil public square, where people of any or no faith can be themselves and argue robustly but where all are responsible for recognising and respecting the freedoms of others.
The Charter was reviewed over the course of three years by people of many faiths and none, including 50 academics, politicians (of various persuasions) and NGOs committed to freedom of conscience for all. It seeks to be a rallying point and conversation starter for all who realise we need to do a better job regarding freedom of conscience and the place of faith in the public square.
Most of us welcome the mix of cultures, faiths and worldviews in our European nations. But the problem is that, while in theory we value diversity, actually we want people to think and do things our way.
Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Sweden contemplate and sometimes introduce legislation on ritual slaughter, head coverings and male circumcision. The Hungarian government wants to reclaim the nation’s traditional Christian identity. Faith minorities are losing out.
What of the UK? We see a slow stream of cases of cases in which employers are struggling to deal with issues of conscience. Define marriage as between a man and a woman and you're likely to be labelled as no better than a racist. All faiths are welcome but, in reality, the message is keep your beliefs to yourself.
What do these problems have in common? We do support human rights, freedom of conscience and expression, but maybe not so much if people’s beliefs mean they want to live, think or speak differently to the alleged majority.
Occasionally, the stupidity is revealed and challenged. The National Secular Society and Christian Institute stand together in condemning the Advertising Standards Authority for conducting a witch hunt against the Coalition for Marriage’s adverts.
We can, however, get it right. Employers and employees do work out issues without fuss, using common sense and “reasonable accommodation.” Politicians do back down from laws that go too far. Street preachers may get arrested, but, in the UK at least, invariably the police apologise.
But diversity remains a serious challenge and the situation is not getting easier. Hence the need for a civil public square, as explained in the Charter of Conscience. Achieving this will take the efforts of people of all faiths and none and will involve much more thinking so that we can reverse the fragmentation and cultivate civility.
Diversity is here to stay. We have to find a fairer and more sustainable way of living together with, not despite, our deepest differences.
By Julia Doxat-Purser, Socio-Political Representative of the European Evangelical Alliance.
Go to www.charterofconscience.org to find the Charter, FAQs and the first tranche of endorsers, including Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on Religion and Belief.