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Onora O’Neill: Freedom of religion and freedom of expression

Onora O’Neill: Freedom of religion and freedom of expression

Onora O’Neill, Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve, chair of the EHRC, delivered the eighth annual Theos lecture on 19th October 2015.

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Onora O’Neill, Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve, gave the 2015 Theos Annual Lecture at The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. She explored the rights to freedom of expression and to freedom of religion and the difficulties of balancing these rights in a diverse society. 

“Rights to Freedom of Expression (Art 10) and to Freedom of Religion and belief (‘thought, conscience and religion’ in ECHR Art 9) have long pedigrees, and are taken to have high importance in the contemporary world. This is not to say that they are universally respected, let alone that it is obvious what either demands. The evidence that they are not respected is all too plain in the persistence of intolerance and intimidation, of outright censorship and religious persecution of those of other faiths, and in the criminalisation of apostasy in some states.

We have to ask not only which rights can consistently be held by all, but also which counterpart duties on others (themselves right holders) are compatible with everyone’s rights. It is not enough merely to assert or assume that everyone has each listed right: rights shorn of counterpart duties will be no more than rhetoric and gesture, and the fundamental task of justifying rights is to find an interpretation under which each person can coherently have all of a range of rights, and these rights are not mere rhetoric because they can be matched to and secured by a pattern of duties that would respect and realise those rights.” 

The lecture was chaired by Caroline Wyatt, BBC News Religious Affairs correspondent.

Onora O’Neill

Onora O’Neill

Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve is a philosopher and crossbench member of the House of Lords. She has written widely on political philosophy and ethics, international justice, bioethics and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. She is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and was chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission from 2012 to 2016.

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The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple
Crown Office Row
London EC4Y 7HL


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