Freedom from religion in Britain is becoming as important as freedom of religion, according to a United Nations investigation into religion in the UK.
In a 23-page report published this evening, a UN rapporteur claims the 2001 Census findings that nearly 72 per cent of the population is Christian can no longer be regarded as accurate. The report claims that two-thirds of British people now do not admit to any religious adherence.
The report also calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England. The role and privileges of the established Church are challenged because they do not reflect “the religious demography of the country and the rising proportion of other Christian denominations.”
The report also warns that measures to combat terrorism in Britain could be undermined because of discrimination against Muslims.
According to the report into the freedom of religion and belief in the UK, there is an “overall respect for human rights and their value.” But the report warns that Muslims in particular face screening, searches, interrogation and arrest.
Citing research that showed that 80 per cent of Muslims in Britain feel they have been discriminated against, the report singles out the Terrorism Act 200 for particular criticism.
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Under the act, police in some areas can stop and search people without having to show reasonable suspicion.
The report says this affects ethnic and religious minorities more than other groups, especially since the July 7 bombings in 2005.
Figures for 2004 to 2006 “show that searches of people with Asian appearance under this provision increased by 84 per cent, compared to an increase of only 24 per cent for White people,” the report says.
The report’s author, Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, also criticises terms in the Terrorism Act 2006 for being “overly broad and vaguely worded.” Phrases she focuses on include “indirectly encouraging” acts of terrorism, and “glorification”, interpreted to mean “any form of praise or celebration.” She also describes the policy of 28 days in detention without charge as unsatisfactory.
Ms Jahangir, 55, twice chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and who was herself only released from house arrest in Lahore during November, says in her conclusions “there exists no hierarchy of discrimination grounds.”
She argues that religion should not have a lower ranking when competing rights are being balanced.
However, she does acknowledge concern about “informal matrimonial courts operating within the Muslim community based on sharia law.” Ms Jahangir, a mother of three children, says the argument by some religious leaders that their traditions should override the rights of women is “unacceptable”.
The report was published the day after the Archbishop of Canterbury said some of the ways in which Sharia was practised were “appalling”.
Dr Rowan Williams said the way the system was applied to women in countries such as Saudi Arabia was “grim”. The Archbishop was speaking in Cambridge days after being criticised for raising the possibility that some aspects of Sharia might be introduced into the British legal system. “What I was trying to say the other day is that sharia law is a very, very wide-ranging scheme of legal understanding within historic Islam,” the Archbishop said at a public lecture in Great St Mary’s Church.
“It is rooted in the sense of doing God’s will in the ordinary things of life.” But he added: “In some of the ways it has been codified and practised across the world, it has been appalling.”
To read the full report, click here and scroll to reference A/HRC/7/10/Add.3.