Each of the three main parties has been accused of discriminating against people with religious beliefs. There appears to be an alarmingly low level of understanding of the nature of a religious belief and about what it means to respect the beliefs and consciences of others.
The Catholic Union has therefore formulated three questions for you to ask your parliamentary candidates. It also sets out some facts for discussion should you wish to use them.
- What concrete steps has your party taken to protect those who have a religious belief against discrimination?
- Can you give an example where you have personally defended the right of someone with whom you profoundly disagree to express their views in public debate?
- What specific things does the law of the United Kingdom on freedom of conscience and religion protect and how do the policies of your party comply with that law?
- Religious belief is a ‘protected characteristic’ in the Equality Act 2010. It is also a fundamental right protected by all the main Human Rights instruments (see, for example, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights).
- It is not sufficient to say that I respect a person’s right to have a private belief. The law protects the manifestation of that belief and the right to educate one’s children in one’s faith. The Church’s teaching on freedom of conscience is contained in the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae: It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all [people] should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, [people] cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. Pope John Paul II said that protection of religious freedom was a ‘litmus test’ for the respect for all other human rights.
3. Around half the population of the United Kingdom identifies as religious.