The Prince of Wales today highlighted the need for action to uphold religious freedom in a video address given in the House of Lords.
The Prince was speaking to Parliamentarians and faith leaders at the launch of the Religious Freedom in the World Report 2014, a comprehensive study of the state of religious freedom for people of all faiths around the globe.
The report is published every two years by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
The entire report and the Prince’s speech are available online at www.religion-freedom-report.org
More than half
In more than half the countries of the world religious freedom is curtailed, the report finds. The survey—conducted by journalists and scholars and covering the years 2012-2014—shows that in 116 of the world’s 196 nations, freedom of worship is obstructed to one degree or another, ranging from mild harassment and discrimination to outright persecution and violence.
The Report classifies 20 countries as manifesting a “high” degree of religious intolerance or active persecution.
Of this group, 14 countries are home to religious minorities that suffer at the hands of Muslim extremists. They are: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Maldives, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
In the remaining six—Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, North Korea, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan—authoritarian regimes are responsible for repressing religious freedom.
The report also documents “aggressive atheism” alongside a rise in anti-Semitism in Western Europe, as well as “religious illiteracy” on the part of Western policy-makers that gravely complicates the conduct of foreign policy.
For a 32-page Executive Summary of the Report, click here.
The report is expected to send a strong message to governments around the world that violations of religious freedom rights can no longer be tolerated if we are to maintain our status as a free society.
Assessing all religious groups, the report concludes that where the situation regarding religious liberty has changed in 2012-1014, it has almost always changed for the worse.
In the 196 countries analysed, deteriorating conditions are noted in 55 countries (or 28%).
Only six of the 196 countries – Iran, United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Qatar, Zimbabwe and Taiwan – have been classified as improved and yet, even of those, four remain categorised as experiencing “high” or “medium” persecution.
John Pontifex, London-based editor-in-chief of the report, said: “In the period under review, global religious freedom entered a period of serious decline and the report confirms media perceptions of a rising tide of persecution aimed at marginalised religious communities.
“The report we have produced indicates that many of those in authority – governments and religious leaders – have continually failed to stand up for religious freedom and hence it has become an orphaned right.
“Serial human rights abuses – from the threat of massacres in the Middle East and discrimination in the workplace in Western countries – are the direct result of religious freedom violations.
“As a Catholic organisation, it is our duty not simply to stand up for Christians suffering religious freedom violations, but for people of all faiths.”
Most critical need
In the report’s foreword, Dr Paul Bhatti, brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities who was murdered in 2011, writes: “Religious freedom is by its nature a right for all, equally shared. … [T]his report challenges people to think afresh about this fundamental right, which is central to a free, fair and flourishing society.”
He concludes: “It is the most critical need of the moment in a divided world where, in some parts there is a religious revival and in others a trend towards religious indifference and atheism.”
Ever more urgent
On the positive side, the report found a number of examples of religious co-operation; however these were often the result of local initiatives rather than progress at the level of national governments.
Peter Sefton-Williams, chairman of the report’s Editorial Committee, says in his summary of the main findings: “The clear lesson from this research is that the urgent call to reverse the violence and oppression directed towards religious minorities must come, first and foremost, from within religious communities themselves.”
And he concludes: “The necessity for all religious leaders to use their pulpits and the media to loudly proclaim their opposition to religiously-inspired violence, and to re-affirm their support for religious tolerance, is becoming – in the present climate – ever more urgent.”
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org