A registrar sacked for refusing to oversee a civil partnership; a pastor arrested for preaching fire and brimstone from his own pulpit; a nurse dismissed for wearing a crucifix while at work; a teacher fired for praying for a sick child... Over the past few years, examples of religious freedom being abridged have proliferated. So what is going on? Are we entering a new era of intolerance towards the faithful? Or a brave new world of equality? Is freedom of conscience under threat? Or does the state have the right to adjudicate on what it is acceptable to think and say? These are just a few of the questions we will be exploring in this half-day conference on the state of religious freedom today.
The conscience question: are we free people?
Freedom of conscience was once viewed as a cornerstone of individual liberty. It guaranteed one's right to act according to one's beliefs, rather than prevailing orthodoxies. Now, however, this freedom often seems to be presented as an impediment to people's capacity to do the 'right' social and moral thing, be it criticism of the parent who withdraws his or her children from sex-education classes to the sacking of the day-care staffer who refuses to address a six-year-old boy as a girl. Are we in danger of losing sight of the importance of freedom of conscience? And if we do not have a free, robust, internal life, can we really be free?
Speakers: Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology, Kent University, Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index of Censorship and Roger Trigg, Professor of Theology at St Cross College, Oxford.
The cake wars: when equality and freedom clash
From the bakers prosecuted for refusing to supply gay-wedding cakes, to the B&B owners legally challenged for turning down custom from a same-sex couple, examples abound of the conflict between equality laws and individual freedoms. But to what extent should equality laws be used to clamp down on people's freedom of conscience? Ought individual or group self-esteem override others’ freedom to act on their convictions? Or are these conflicts better resolved through open debate rather than state legislation?
Speakers: Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner; director, Peter Tatchell Foundation, Simon Calvert, deputy director for Public affairs, the Christian Institute and third speaker will be confirmed shortly.
The hate trap: should we be free to hate?
Hate-speech legislation is spreading across Europe. To many, its ostensible targets appear legitimate: holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, fascists and so on. But is the reality more complex? Are hate-speech laws often being used to punish and silence those who simply hold unpopular moral or religious views, from Christians who criticise gay marriage to secularists who oppose Islamic preparation of meat? Is hate speech merely heresy resurrected, a category used to denote which ideas may and may not be expressed?
Speakers: Brendan O’Neill, editor, spiked, Muhammad Al –Hussaini, senior fellow in Islamic Studies, Westminster Institute and Paul Coleman, deputy director, Alliance Defending Freedom.
For more information please visit the conference's webpage: