Bahá’í community co-sponsors dialogue on religious freedom

Canada’s newly-appointed ambassador for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett, met with Paul Bhatti, Pakistan’s former Minister for National Harmony and the chair of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, for a public discussion on the freedom of religion and belief at Canada House on 4 July. The discussion was co- sponsored by Canada House and the UK Bahá’í community.

Dr Bhatti is the brother of the late Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minority Affairs in Pakistan until his assassination in 2011.

The discussion was attended by a wide range of human rights activists, clerics, members of the Pakistani diaspora, civil servants, and journalists. Gordon Campbell, the Canadian High Commissioner, restated Canada’s commitment to the work of freedom of religion and belief around the world – and welcomed the collaboration with the Bahá’í community and other groups.

Ambassador Bennett and Dr Bhatti discussed several questions on the freedom of religion: the need to balance this essential right with others; the wisdom of removing theology from any consideration of the freedom of religion; the universality of this and other human rights; the ways in which international partners can, despite cultural and contextual differences, find common ground to pursue the freedom of religion and belief agenda.

Questions from the floor, and further reflections from the two distinguished guests, centered on the long-standing issue of the blasphemy law in Pakistan; the central importance of education in dealing with infringements on freedom of belief; and the crucial interplay between the freedom of religion and belief, and the freedom of expression.

Minister for Integration visits National Bahá’í Centre

The Rt Hon Don Foster MP, Minister for Integration, was welcomed on 2 July by a delegation of Bahá’ís, including individuals from Mr Foster’s Bath constituency, at the National Bahá’í Centre in London.

Minister for Integration Don Foster MP

Minister for Integration Don Foster MP  visits the National Bahá’í Centre in London

Mr Foster shared news of the impending launch of a government initiative, “Together in Service”, which will encourage interfaith social action. One of the aims of the initiative will be to consolidate the “A Year of Service” venture which was launched at the National Bahá’í Centre in February 2012 with Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

“The best way for a Hindu and a Muslim to understand each other better,” Mr Foster suggested, “is by sweeping the road or helping the homeless together.”

“You continue to distinguish yourselves in the professions, the arts and particularly in the vital areas of education and conflict resolution,” Mr. Foster told the Bahá’ís.

The Minister also discussed the need for the Government to assist UK faith communities in developing a “counter- narrative” regarding the role of religion in society – to challenge the often negative stereotypes of religion that appear in the media and demonstrate its potential for positive influence.

Mr Foster felt that the spontaneous response of all faith communities after the tragic murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, in Woolwich, in unequivocally condemning the attack and standing together in unity, was a watershed moment. The show of unity and support illustrated the cohesive and harmonising role that all faith communities can have. Mr Foster said he was “very proud” of this swift and united response.