Banner Image:   Baptist-Times-banner-2000x370-
Template Mode:   Baptist Times
    Post     Tweet

Our God-given ‘first freedom’: freedom of religion or belief for all 


October 27 marks International FoRB Day, or Freedom of Religion & Belief Day. Mervyn Thomas, the founder and CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide highlights the importance of Christians fighting to protect the right of everyone to freedom in the way they express their belief, no matter their religious affiliation

Religious Freedom 

Religious persecution is not new. Under King Charles II, Baptists experienced extensive regulations restricting religious practice, and arbitrary fines and imprisonment if they refused to comply.

At around the same time, Baptists in America faced violence and imprisonment, a situation that would be echoed later in 20th century Russia.

The concept of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is not new either. This right was articulated by the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great in 550 BC, and is found in both the French Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen and United States (US) Bill of Rights of 1789. 

It was enshrined as a fundamental human right in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) almost 70 years ago, and has been strengthened further throughout the 20th century by additional international and regional covenants.

In fact, the development of the concept of human rights owes much to Baptist and free-church thinking. Christian thinkers, mission agencies and bodies such as the World Council of Churches (WCC) were significant champions of Article 18.

But freedom of religion or belief isn’t just a fundamental human right enshrined in international law; it is our God-given ‘first freedom,’ as articulated in Exodus 8:1. The right entails the freedom to choose or refuse a faith, or to espouse no faith at all. 

As we read in Genesis 1:26-27, God created mankind in His own image and likeness, and gave us free will, including the freedom to believe in whatever we choose - whether that’s in God, in something else, or in nothing at all.

These verses also explain the concept of the inherent human dignity of every individual, on which all human rights are grounded. The fact that we are all created in the image and likeness of God ought to take precedence over religious, gender, race, and all other axes of difference, and determine the manner in which we treat one another.
It also means that, like God, we should not stand by as another human being is deprived of their dignity, regardless of their religion, belief or non-belief.

We have a biblical injunction to stand up for anyone who faces injustice. Proverbs 31:8 tells us to, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” This is not restricted to speaking on behalf of Christians whose rights are being restricted; we are enjoined to speak up “for the rights of all who are destitute,” and to “judge fairly.”

Some may question the act of defending a group or individual that does not share our beliefs, such as the Rohingya in Burma or the Baha’i in Iran, for example. However, on several occasions the Bible instructs us to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes it clear that our ‘neighbour’ is not limited to people ‘like us’, but includes people who may have completely different beliefs to us.

As Christians, we are called to show Christ’s love to all. In coming alongside people of all faiths and none who face violations of their right to freedom of religion or belief, we are not only opposing injustice – we are also putting that love into action.

Image | Creationswap

Mervyn Thomas, the Founder and CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organisation working to bring freedom of religion for all across the world.

CSW has There are a variety of ways Christians can protect the right of everyone to freedom in the way they express their belief. Visit https://www.csw.org.uk/getinvolved.htm for more. 


Do you have a view? Share your thoughts via our letters' page


Baptist Times, 17/10/2018
    Post     Tweet
Learning to slow down, dig deep, or skim ahead - Terry Young continues his series exploring different ways of engaging with the Bible
How a simple planning tool might give churches some useful insights for the road ahead
As we listen to a whole Biblical narrative, we discover how those first disciples took in their teaching.
For those in their 20s and 30s, culture beats programmes every time, writes Simon Barrington. Here’s what churches need to know, and how they can respond
The current crisis is giving an opportunity to reshape our practice of Bible reading and study. Terry Young explores options
The sixth and final piece in the series from Baptist ministers John Weaver and John Rackley, highlights the great value on the story of each person’s faith. As such, they offer questions to help you explore your own story of faith
     The Baptist Times 
    Posted: 27/05/2020
    Posted: 08/05/2020
    Posted: 24/04/2020
    Posted: 09/04/2020
    Posted: 05/04/2020
    Posted: 03/04/2020
    Posted: 01/04/2020
    Posted: 27/03/2020
    Posted: 10/03/2020
    Posted: 03/01/2020
    Posted: 08/11/2019