December 6, 2007 Binfield, Bracknell, Berkshire (Ansel Oliver and Helen Pearson/ANN)
A one-day conference at Seventh-day Adventist-owned Newbold College addressed responses to anti-terrorism laws — including privacy and hate speech law proposals — that could affect freedom of religion in the workplace and society.
Church leaders and religious freedom experts met on November 25 for the “Religious Freedom in Europe Since 9/11” conference at Newbold's Centre for Religious and Cultural Diversity.
The roundtable of 40 experts and academics included a member of the House of Lords, professors from the universities of Buckingham and Reading, along with church leaders from the United Kingdom and the church's world headquarters near Washington, D.C.
Some presenters focused on instances of countries adopting or considering hate speech legislation, including religious hate speech. Critics of such laws have said religion should not be exempt from scrutiny.
The group also voiced concern for new resistance to religious practices, including wearing the Islamic veil in some European schools.
“The responsibility for supporting religious freedom lies with all concerned,” said Jonathan Gallagher, the Adventist Church's United Nation's liaison. “The denial of religious freedom to another is a denial of religious freedom to oneself.”
British House of Lords Deputy Speaker Baroness Caroline Cox described her visits to Nigeria, Sudan and Indonesia and her observations concerning the effects of jihad in those countries. “The Christian churches have been slow to respond to the issue of child slavery and the manipulation of humanitarian aid as weapons of Islamisation,” she said.
Don McFarlane, president of the Adventist Church in Great Britain, cited Adventist responses to the sexual orientation legislation in England as a case study to consider the church's response to threats of freedom of belief, especially in hiring practices at church institutions.
McFarlane said he was encouraged to see “a varied group of Adventists — both professionals and members from different countries showing concern for religious freedom in [the United Kingdom] and abroad. Seventh-day Adventists have a history of taking the lead in this subject and we should continue to do so.”