CIFoRB Celebrates International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day - Thursday 27 October 2016
In celebration of International Freedom of Religion or Belief - FORB Day the CIFoRB team and the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief hosted a roundtable event in Parliament exploring the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief around the world, with the aim that it should become an annual event to mark the day.
CIFoRB and the APPG drew together parliamentarians, Commonwealth organisations, academics, NGOs, journalists and faith groups to discuss how best to advance Freedom of Religion or Belief and work together, engaging in new ideas, new programmes to support FORB. As one participant noted the Freedom of Religion or Belief is an absolute right and it is morally and policitally imperative that we should all defend and promote it, no matter what our individual faith or beliefs.
We were delighted to hear contributions from the UN, the EU Special Envoy for FoRB outside the European Union as well as from the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General, Jospehine Ojiambo and parliamentarians from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Academics from the University of Birmingham and Sussex University provided refreshing insights and there was strong agreement within the room that while the global environment of Freedom of Religion or Belief at times looks very bleak, action is being taken and working together will bring about change.
It was in the early 17th Century that the concept of freedom of religion or belief first emerged though the remarkable vision of Thomas Helwys, a Baptist from Nottinghamshire. Returning from the Netherlands Helwys who was a wealthy Englishman, wrote the first book in English on religious liberty. In his book A Short Declaration on the Mystery of Iniquity, Helwys argued that all people should be free to worship their own faith or indeed have the right to follow no religion at all without interference or persecution from the state.
Helwys sent his book to King James 1 and was imprisoned and never released. But his vision of freedom of religion or belief for all was taken up by other Baptists and today Thomas Helwys’s work is of global importance. His work is the foundation of what we know as Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the freedom to choose one’s own religion, to practise that faith publicly and privately as an individual and within communities, or to choose not to have any religion at all.