East Belfast MP Mrs Long was speaking ahead of a half-day debate she brought to the House of Commons today (Thursday), entitled ‘Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion’. It looked at liberty, or lack thereof, in various countries around the world, particularly focusing on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Mrs Long, who is Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Freedom and the official representative of the Open Doors charity in the House of Commons, said freedom of religion, whilst important in its own right, was interconnected with a wide range of other political, social, economic and cultural rights, as well as the prevention of poverty.
“Religious persecution is on the rise, becoming more intense in more countries, while also being incredibly varied. Between November 2012 and October 2013, 2,123 killings of Christians were recorded worldwide, nearly double the number of the previous year. Given the invidious nature of some of the persecution and difficulties, these estimates could be conservative.
“This discrimination often involves the violent persecution of both individuals and groups, but can also take the form of stopping access to education, employment and health services, or limitations on individuals to marry, retain the custody of children, their right to participate in the media or preserve cultural and religious heritage.
“The plurality of view and beliefs in the UK is something we should be proud of but not everyone is so lucky. Equality and religious freedom are fundamental to a democratic society, and both must be promoted and protected. However, it is important this freedom must extend not only to Christians and our beliefs, but to those of other faiths and, crucially, includes the right to freedom from religion for those who are not believers.”