MPs call for parliamentary religious freedom forum across party lines

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ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley and UDM MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa.

ACDP Member of Parliament Cheryllyn Dudley, supported by her #IPPFoRB colleagues in parliament, Narend Singh (IFP) and Nqabayomzi Kwankwa (UDM), has called on chief whips of political parties in parliament to invite and send members to join and help establish a multi-party forum committed to protecting and promoting religious freedom.

SAPFoRB – SA Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion and Belief would be a forum of members of parliament across party lines to look at legislation in terms of how it impacts on religious freedom and to make collective statements and recommendations, Dudley said.

She said: “Freedom of religion or belief gives people their identity and the freedom to form and express personal beliefs. Freedom of religion or belief protects, not only those who believe in a God (religious groups), but those who do not (atheists), and those who believe it is impossible to know whether there is a God or not (agnostics)”.

In a recent statement in the National Assembly calling for such a forum, Singh said “…another important point to make is that freedom of religion or belief is also one of our most powerful tools in the fight against extremism.”

Dudley said: “In the face of escalating violations of religious freedom worldwide, the forum of SA Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (SAPFoRB) will not only seek to promote religious freedom or belief for everyone living in SA but work with parliamentarians globally to enhance global cooperation.

“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, threats to this freedom exist in various forms. One example currently concerning huge numbers within faith communities across all religions is the report of the CLR Commission which has proposed preposterous mechanisms of state intervention to deal with issues that can easily be dealt with by implementing existing laws to deal with abuses in the name of Religion.

“Other legislation like the Hate Speech Bill and the Films and Publications Amendment Bill also require members of parliament to be vigilant with regard to the potentially negative impact they can have on freedom of religion and belief.

“This forum is an opportunity for MPs to work together across party, religious and other lines to carefully consider and propose rational, viable alternatives and solutions where contentious clauses threaten freedoms unnecessarily.

“Human rights are not a list of rights from the most important to the least important — they are a collective and are all important. Freedom of religion and belief has sadly taken on an orphan-like status and for this reason the need to remind ourselves and the global community of the importance of freedom of religion and belief is not just obvious but urgent.

“According to NGOs working globally there is often a connection between high restrictions on freedom of religion and belief in a society and high levels of violent conflict and military spending, poor economic development, a low status and participation of women in social and economic matters and poor health.

“Protecting freedom of religion or belief is not about protecting religions and beliefs from criticism or even ridicule – it is about the freedom of people themselves to believe in different religions or concepts. Respecting the right of other people to be different to us must be done purposefully.

“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 do have to accept their right to hold that view and express it. Parents and guardians must also have the right to raise their child in their own religion or beliefs.

“In the Human Rights Declaration it declares ‘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.’ “

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