International Religious Freedom Day – 27 October 2020

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“This day, with our participation, can help to draw attention to the importance of the right to freedom of religion or belief as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. World Watch Lists name ever increasing numbers of countries tragically engaging in ongoing persecution because of religion.

South Africa is regarded by human rights monitors as having high levels of freedom of religion and belief and while this is true in many respects a veiled threat to this freedom exists in the form of intolerance and extremism. Extremism in the name of Islam, Christianity, Gender and LGBT activism rears its head periodically in the form of hatred and violence both verbal and physical.

My appeal to all sectors of South African society is to prioritize our ‘shared future’. Living in peace and respecting the right of other people to be different to us must be done purposefully – it requires determination not to allow emotions and hurts to dictate our actions.

Yes, we should be free to express the view that our way is a better way if that is our conviction but we have to accept other people’s right to disagree and express their opinion. We do not have to like it or agree but we would have to accept their right to hold that view and express it.

Gender and LGBT activists for example, have targeted Christian churches in South Africa attempting to force Christians and Churches to discard sections of the Bible – through legislative amendments and accusations of human rights abuses – this is a violation of freedom of religion and an on-going challenge.

Christians on the other hand have often been less than caring and sensitive in expressing their views. Fortunately our courts have made some rational decisions in this regard which has diffused divisive and contentious situations.

Jewish Communities in South Africa face on-going anti-semetism from certain sectors of society and this must of course be condemned. The tolerance and lack of retaliation demonstrated by the broader Jewish community is however acknowledged and saluted.

Canadian MP, David Anderson, a colleague and member of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (#IPPFoRB) described freedom of religion or belief as an embattled right and the defining issue of our time. “Freedom to believe is what shapes our common humanity and, if we are not careful, we risk losing it.”

The Human Rights Declaration declares “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his/her religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Greater respect for and protection of this right locally, regional and internationally is needed by society and governments across the world.

“As a member of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) and a former Member of the Parliament of South Africa I have no doubt that freedom of religion and belief is crucial and impacts every human being on the planet earth.” – Cheryllyn Dudley