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World News

‘There is much still to do. But there is still time to do it’: Bishop urges government to do more to tackle religious freedom

by Marcus Jones

The Bishop of Truro, who oversaw an independent review into religious freedom around the world on behalf of the Foreign Office, says more action is still needed from the UK government.

Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen has been giving an address to mark the 175th anniversary of the National Club, a private members club for Christians, two and a half years on after he made a number of recommendations for the government.

He said he was encouraged to hear the government repeating its commitment to implement the recommendations but urged politicians to act “not just in rhetoric but in reality”.

Bishop Philip reminded those attending, which included former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and Fiona Bruce, the UK’s special envoy for freedom of religion, that 80 per cent of global religiously motivated discrimination is directed against Christians, a figure he described as “intolerable” stating “we simply cannot pass by on the other side.”
He suggested there is still an illiteracy within government when it comes to religion and understanding how and why people of faith act as they do, referencing the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He said: “It’s certainly worth asking as we look back on the disaster of Afghanistan whether the key role of religion was critically overlooked. There was a very worrying and signal failure to take the great vulnerability of religious minorities seriously when it came to extracting people from Afghanistan, despite the self-evident fact that Sikhs, Hindus, Hazara Shias and Christians were rendered extremely vulnerable by the Taliban takeover.

“Other groups were identified for help by the Government, but not religious minorities, including the extremely vulnerable Christian community.”

The bishop’s recommendations are up for review in six months but he says it’s still possible to make progress in that time.

“I urge the government to redouble its efforts to ensure that my recommendations are implemented in full, in both spirit and in letter.  There is much still to do. But there is still time to do it. ”
 “I urge the government to grasp these opportunities: to recognise how critical this issue is in today’s world and to put freedom of religion and belief front and centre.”

In a statement to Premier, a spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “Defending the right to freedom of religion or belief is a priority for the UK government.

"We are committed to implementing the recommendations in the Bishop of Truro’s review to  improve the lives of those persecuted because of their faith or belief.”

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