Religious freedom needs to be defended

Reiss Ferlance

I hope you had a merry Christmas and I hope that your new year is just as good!

2015 has been an interesting year for liberty and freedom; we had the introduction of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which has all sorts of worrying implications. We have seen a rise in the number of speakers being banned from universities for their views corresponding with a rise in the demand for the number of so-called ‘safe zones’. We’ve seen the rise of Islamic State, who reject the idea of individuals being able to live their lives as they choose.

On the face of it that would look pretty grim but it’s not all gloom and doom; this year was the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta which laid the foundations of the limits of centralised political power in England and eventually the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland voted in a referendum with a majority in favour of same-sex couples being able to get married, and women were able to vote in municipal elections in Saudi Arabia for the first time ever. While this won’t lead to an automatic reduction of state interference in the lives of Saudi Arabian women, it is a welcome step in the right direction.

It is freedom of religion that comes to mind at this time of year and Christianity in particular. Across the world right now many are facing the most excessive forms of coercion, violence and state intrusion because of their faith. Just recently the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah announced that anyone who is openly celebrating Christmas could face jail. So much as sending a Christmas card and even putting up a Christmas tree could get you 5 years in prison. Many Christians in Syria and Iraq are fleeing from the brutality of IS, and Christians in China who don’t belong to state-authorised religious organisation face arrests, fines and even prison sentences.

Even those who do belong to state-authorised religions (those registered with China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs) face heavy government monitoring and regulation of their activities, going as far as to place undercover state officials in meetings according to a report from the Commission on International Religious Freedom. For many of these Christians it will not be a Merry Christmas.

Many libertarians and other freedom lovers rightly despise being told what lifestyle to lead so it is perhaps natural that religion may not be something that is an active part of our lives. For others though, it is an integral part of their life; it’s what makes them who they are. It’s what gives them their self-worth and, through assembling at church, singing hymns and biblical discussion, it’s also how other freedoms such as assembly and speech can be expressed. One could even look at it from a free market standpoint; different religions all vying for our custom in a framework of choice and competition and supply and demand. Religious freedom therefore is an integral part of any free society.

As we all enjoy the last days of the Christmas season let’s spare a thought for those Christians who are living in fear of fear of persecution, coercion, aggression for simply choosing to have a have a faith and celebrating one of its holy days. Let’s also take stock of religious freedom in the UK too; we’ve seen bakers being taken to court for choosing not to ice particular messages on cakes that are anathema to their faith and we’ve seen individuals face court simply for having opinions about particular religions. While the UK probably won’t go down the road of banning Christmas, it’s important that religious freedom is defended just like all others.

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty