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UK signs up to US-led ‘International Religious Freedom Alliance’

The White House. Image copyright Cezary p.

The United States has today announced a new ‘International Religious Freedom Alliance’. The UK has been announced as a member of the Alliance.

The ‘Declaration of Principles’ of the Alliance in some places uses religiously exclusive language (much as does the Alliance’s name), but in many places is inclusive of the non-religious. This includes, for example, that ‘The Alliance intends to advocate for freedom of religion or belief for all’, and that ‘Alliance members are committed to challenging persistent violations and abuses of the right to manifest one’s religion or belief, including… the use of blasphemy laws and the denial of registration to religious or non-religious groups…’

Some members of the Alliance include strong defenders of freedom of religion or belief, such as the Netherlands, but also countries with regressive human rights records, such as Brazil, Hungary, and Poland. Poland has also been announced as the host of the next Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, another US-established initiative.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘There is much to welcome in the Principles of the newly established Alliance, including explicit protection of the non-religious. We know the UK Government has long been a strong defender of freedom of religion or belief for all and we are delighted that that approach is reflected in these aspects of the statement.

‘We are concerned that some members of the Alliance do not have good track records on upholding human rights, and have in fact used so-called “religious freedom” as a justification for trampling on the rights and freedoms of others, including non-Christians, women, and LGBT people. It is also a shame that the Alliance’s name, in referring specifically to “Religious Freedom”, uses language exclusive of the non-religious – it is important to always use the term found in international human rights law of “freedom of religion or belief”. For many, this fact alone will undermine the credibility of the alliance.

‘We very much hope the UK Government will now encourage other members of the new Alliance to take a multilateral approach to human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, both domestically and in their own foreign policy work.’

Meanwhile in the House of Lords this morning, All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group member Lord Collins of Highbury (who is also Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development) raised similar issues in an oral question to the Government. Government minister Baroness Sugg replied affirming the UK Government’s commitment to freedom of religion or belief.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7324 3072.

Read the US State Department’s press release.

Read the Declaration of Principles.

Read Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks.

Read the State Department’s wider remarks and Q&A.

Read more about our work on international issues.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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