Belfast Telegraph

'Protect religious freedom' call

Religious freedom needs to be protected, a Church of Ireland bishop has said.

Faith liberty cannot be automatically overridden when it clashes with other rights, said Derry and Raphoe Bishop Kenneth Good.

The Muslim chair of the Conservative Party, Baroness Warsi, has accused the political elite of fostering suspicion about the role and place of belief in society.

Bishop Good said some saw religion as an optional or personal matter. "This happens at the same time as the values of pluralism and the promotion of tolerance, diversity, freedom and equality are considered to be paramount.

"In the process it can happen that religious freedoms and religious rights can be trumped by other freedoms and rights that appear to merit a higher priority," he said.

"Religious freedom has long been recognised as one of the most basic and important rights, and it cannot be automatically overridden when it clashes with other rights."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams last December accused the Government of treating religious faith as an "eccentricity" practised by "oddities".

Bishop Good told the Derry and Raphoe diocesan synod in Londonderry: "It will take some time for us to get the weighting between religious and other rights more wisely and more finely balanced. During this process, it is likely that the case for religious freedom and rights will need to be argued with considerable effectiveness."

He said the churches had a role to play in helping society in Northern Ireland emerge from decades of division.

"We must make a courageous contribution to help society face up to sectarianism, to find ways of overcoming community segregation, to rebuild trust and to help those whose lives have been sorely damaged by violence discover some measure of healing and comfort," he added.

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