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Editorial supervisor, Dr. Helmy Guirguis
Dr. Helmy Guirguis 71, the president of the UK Copts, passed away on the 31 of January, 2015 after a struggle with illness. UK Copts mourns its founder and leader. He is a leader that touched so many by his life and has been fighting for the coptic case till his last breath. The commemoration mass for his 40th day will be held on Sunday 15th of March, 2014 starting 8 AM in Saint Mary and Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Centre of Birmingham (Lapworth) .For commiserations, please send us an email to

Cry Freedom: Britain and religious liberty

Britain is not a very religious country, but there are quite a lot of people in Britain who care strongly about religion—and in particular, about the fate of co-religionists in distant lands who are suffering because of their beliefs or identity. Any member of Parliament can tell you that. Especially in the age of satellite television and the internet, which allows people to live in an information bubble of their own choosing.

All religious communities can follow the travails of their brothers and sisters in faith in real time—and they expect elected politicians to share their concerns. But such causes are a political minefield. Lobby for the Sikhs and you may alienate the Hindus. Campaign for the Muslims of Burma or Sri Lanka and you may enrage the Buddhists. Protest on behalf of the Christians of Iraq, Syria or Egypt and you may upset Muslim voters.

An increasingly vocal body of British legislators (numbering 45 and rising), from both Houses of Parliament, say they have a better idea: instead of rooting for particular religions, the stated aim of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom is to campaign for liberty of conscience in general, stressing the need protect all belief systems including atheism. Or to put it another way, they want the government to give greater priority to affirming Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which virtually all countries in the world have notionally signed up. It says:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his 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.”

That's the theory. In practice, three-quarters of the world's population live in places where these rights are to some degree restricted. In a report just published by the APPG, it is argued that religious freedom is in danger of being treated as a "poor relation" among widely accepted basic entitlements. As the report notes, many other matters of concern to human rights advocates—the rights of women, children, the disabled, migrants, victims of enforced disappearance and torture—are the subject of full-blown UN conventions, which spell out the implications of these rights and set a standard to which countries can be held.

The report urges Britain to join the United States and Canada in naming a respected figure to monitor religious freedom, and make sure that government offices are giving the issue high priority. It wants promoting liberty of conscience to be listed among the explicit aims of British development aid, which should be channelled through partners "with a sophisticated understanding of freedom of religion and belief".

Although several of the APPG's prime movers, including its leader Elizabeth Berridge, are Christians, the group is adamant that it is not a Christian lobby in disguise. Its 19 "stakeholders"—all of whom are committed to funding the group's work—include Sikhs, humanists as well as Ahmadiyya Muslims and Ismaili Muslims. "We are raising a human rights question, not a religious issue or an issue about the merits of any particular religion," Lady Berridge, a Tory lawyer, insists. Religions and religious leaders gain greater moral authority if they voice concern for oppressed groups other than their own—a point that some Christians have been a bit slow to realise, in her view.

It will take more than a parliamentary lobby group to solve the problem of religious persecution across the world. But the group could still be doing something useful if it provides politicians with a new language to discuss the problem. It doesn't seem to be going away.

The Economist

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