London, UK - "Human Rights: Are Democratic Nations Upholding a Better Standard?" was the theme of a European Leadership Conference Nov. 21-22, 2013 in the Houses of Parliament in London.
Several speakers addressed issues of religious inclusion in Europe. Religious freedom is defined as a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. The concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any religion. Freedom of religion is considered by many people and nations to be a fundamental human right.
Prof. David Baer, associate professor of theology and philosophy at Texas Lutheran University, spoke about state-level religious discrimination in Hungary. Legislation had been proposed granting official recognition to 362 churches and religious institutions, but a revision cut the number to only 14. Any other religious association seeking official recognition would have to demonstrate its presence in Hungary for at least 20 years, obtain 1,000 signatures, gain the support of a government minister, pass review by the National Security Service and win a two-thirds vote of parliament. Observed one Hungarian newspaper, "Gods are now sitting in parliament" who get to decide who constitutes a church and who does not.
Mr. Peter Zoehrer, secretary general of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and adviser to UPF-Europe on human rights, reported about a European Union initiative, the Freedom of Religion and Beliefs, which offers guidelines to EU efforts to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief in other nations. However, studies show that in some EU nations, such France and Hungary, religious freedom is not practiced and the persecution of minority religions is widespread. Thus, the European Union demands human rights standards of others which it fails to implement within its own borders. He ended by quoting Mahatma Gandhi: “Each civilization should be judged by the way it treats her minorities.”
Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid, a leader in the World Congress of Faiths and advocate of interfaith harmony and religious rights, asked: "Are Muslims being treated equally and fairly?" He said that an initial report on "Islamophobia" made 60 recommendations of which only 30 were completed and that hostility against Muslims is painfully apparent. The Times newspaper sympathetically described Muslims as the "Jews of this century," meaning that they are experiencing discrimination and hostility. Although former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had stated that the UN would help combat Islamophobia, he said that in many states there is still fear of Islam.
The Vice President of the European Jewish Council, Mr. Edwin Shuker, addressed anti-Semitism from the perspective of those suffering discrimination at the hands of individuals and of the state. After describing the challenges of jobs that require working on the Sabbath and controversies about circumcision, he said that the vast majority of European people and states have been accommodating to Jewish people. "We don't like being talked about badly," he concluded, "so we must take care how we talk about others in a similar or worse situation."
UPF was a partner with the UK Parliament Week, and the conference was one of a series of events within that week. The European Leadership Conference series has included major events in national parliaments, at the UN headquarters in Geneva and Vienna and at the European Parliament.
Texts of presentations
Prof. H. David Baer: Continuing Problems with Hungary’s Law on Religion
Mark Brann: Human Rights: Are Democratic Nations Upholding a Better Standard?
Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke: Human Rights
Ollie Davies: Inter-Religious Inclusion in Europe
Ilaria Esposito: Rights for Youth in the Council of Europe
Robin Marsh: Immigration and Refugees Experience in Europe
Tim Miller: The Human Rights of Immigrants and Refugees in Europe
Justina Mutale: Women's increased/equal participation in the political decision-making process essential to sustainable growth: An African Perspective
Ahmed Shebani: Beacon 218: Democratic Party’s Project To Assist Immigrants
Rt. Hon. Baroness Verma: Women in Democracy
Peter Zoehrer: Freedom of Religion and Belief & Religious Freedom in Europe
A thank-you letter from both speakers of the UK Parliament
Text of a January 14, 2014 letter to Robin Marsh, secretary general of UPF-UK, signed by John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Baroness De Souza, speaker of the House of Lords, thanking UPF for contributing to "Parliament Week" by holding the November 21 European Leadership Conference in a Parliament meeting room:
Parliament Week 2013 was the biggest, the best and the most diverse yet, and we would like to thank you for helping to make it happen.
Universal Peace Federation represents one of 230 organisations that signed up to be a Parliament Week partner, and without your effort, creativity and hard work, the week would simply not have happen. It is inspiring that so many organizations partnered with Parliament Week this year and committed to putting on such a diverse and creative programme of events; the quality and variety was astounding. Many events took place outside Westminster, giving people all over the UK ways to connect with, celebrate, discuss and challenge Parliament and parliamentary democracy.
For some people Parliament Week will be start of a closer relationship with their democracy. We hope that many more people will be inspired by your own event to find out more about what happens in Westminster, in their local community and about the many ways they can make their voices heard.
Thank you once again and we hope that you will take part in Parliament Week in years to come.
Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons
Rt Hon Baroness D’Souza CMG Lord Speaker