Letter: Rights and religions

Sir: We welcome the Government's determination to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law through the Human Rights Bill, now moving into its committee stage in the House of Commons. The Human Rights Act will be a keystone in creating a more just and equitable society.

We believe that faith communities and their associated organisations should respond warmly to legislation which makes it easier for United Kingdom citizens to protect their basic human rights. While we recognise some of the anxieties expressed by other Christians regarding the Bill's implications, sound legal opinion and the experience of churches in Europe indicate that Article 9, dealing with religious freedom, provides clear and proper protection. Such fears are therefore misplaced. We deplore attempts by some Christians to weaken the Bill through exemption-type amendments. We encourage Her Majesty's Government to reject devices which surround the Bill with exclusions, defences and opt-outs. Such exemptions would be inconsistent with its manifesto commitment to "bring rights home".

We affirm the values represented by the Human Rights Bill. As such they challenge our religious institutions in the way they conduct themselves as human communities. Those who oppose the full incorporation of the European Convention, by challenging the inclusion of churches and other religious bodies within the definition of "public authority", are in danger of creating legislation which is less rather than more satisfactory to the churches. Narrow and misguided institutional self-interest should give way to an embrace of those rights and values which will enhance the common good.

BEN BRADSHAW MP

(Exeter, Lab)

CHRIS BRYANT

Christian Socialist Movement

NADIR DINSHAW

JOHN GIBSON

Catholics for a Changing Church

+JOHN GUILDFORD

(The Right Rev John Gladwin, Bishop of Guildford)

The Most Rev RICHARD

HOLLOWAY

Bishop of Edinburgh

HELENA KENNEDY

(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws)

RICHARD KIRKER

Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

Canon MARTYN PERCY, DAVID McCLEAN

The Lincoln Theological Institute

MARTIN PENDERGAST

Christians for Human Rights

The Right Rev PETER SELBY

Bishop of Worcester

VALERIE STROUD

We Are Church (UK)

ELIZABETH STUART

Professor of Theology, Winchester

+ROWAN MONMOUTH

(The Right Rev Rowan Williams, Bishop of Monmouth)

London E9

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