Freedom of Religion or Belief
Panel Speakers at a Seminar on Freedom of Religious Belief
Freedom of Religion or Belief
We believe that the freedom to choose, hold, and change one’s beliefs is central to human dignity and human development. It is the individual's search for meaning and the desire to know who we are as human beings that distinguishes the human conscience. Thus, the OPA is committed to the principle of religious freedom and works with others to elevate and promote this freedom around the world.
Since 2012, the OPA has been a stakeholder in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief. The OPA partners with a variety of governmental bodies, civil society organisations, academics and faith-based groups on events and initiatives to advance the freedom of religion or belief.
In recent years, the OPA has collaborated with academics and business leaders to explore the strong correlation between freedom of religion and belief and economic prosperity.
What is a Bahá’í understanding of discourses?Over the years, the Bahá’í community has come to refer to one aspect of its efforts to contribute to the advancement of civilization as participation in the discourses of society. At any given moment, and in social spaces at all levels of society, there are a range of ongoing discourses concerned with various aspects of humanity’s wellbeing and progress: discourses on such subjects as the equality of women and men, peace, governance, public health, and development, to name but a few. Bahá’ís—whether through their involvement in the life of the local community, their efforts of social action, or in the course of their studies, occupations, or professional activities—strive to participate fruitfully in such discourses, learning with and from others and offering their personal insights, informed by the Bahá’í teachings, to the unfolding discussions. Our Office of Public Affairs strives to contribute through various avenues to the promotion of ideas conducive to public welfare. At the international level, the Bahá’í International Community (BIC) is similarly engaged. The BIC is an international non-governmental organization, accredited with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which represents all the National Spiritual Assemblies in the world. It is an active participant in many of the United Nation’s major conferences and commissions, frequently presenting papers and statements on such diverse subjects as minority rights, the status of women, crime prevention, and the welfare of children and the family. With offices in New York and Geneva, the BIC participates on a daily basis in the constant stream of forums, seminars and small group discussions taking place in those locations. The BIC is also coming to play a more active part in discussions at the regional level and, to this end, it is in the process of establishing new offices in cities throughout the world. One such office was opened in Brussels in 2012 to coordinate the efforts of Bahá’ís to work with and support European organizations including the European Union and Council of Europe.
What is the approach of your Office?At whatever level, Bahá’ís strive to adopt a posture of learning and engage in genuine conversation and in a range of settings around the world are eager to share what they are learning in their efforts to apply Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings towards the advancement of civilization. Learning with and from other like-minded individuals and groups, the purpose of Bahá’í participation in discourses is not to persuade others to accept a Bahá’í position on this or that subject. Nor is effort in this area of endeavor pursued as a public relations activity or an academic exercise. As such, they do not set out to offer any specific solutions to the problems that face humanity such as climate change, women’s health, food production and poverty alleviation.
How do you choose your focus areas?Our Focus Areas represent discourses that we see to be particularly urgent and timely within British society. A regular and wide reading of social forces, societal issues and exigiencies across the UK allows us to discern areas of thought we can best contribute to over-time. Based on Baha'i principles as well as the collective experience of the national UK Baha'i community, our Office chooses focus areas based on what we feel we can make a constructive contribution towards.
How can we collaborate and connect?If you, or an organisation you work with, would like to collaborate with our Office, we encourage you to reach out. Central to our approach, is to learn alongside other individuals and groups across the UK to better respond to the needs of our time. There are many ways we can work together, and we look forward to hearing from you!
What is the Bahá’í Faith?Bahá’ís believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society and of the nature and purpose of life. Such a vision unfolds in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh, the most recent of these Divine Educators, teaches that humanity is on a path to maturity, much like an individual who progresses through various stages of development. The current turmoil in the world can be viewed as humanity experiencing the turbulence of adolescence. The writings of Bahá'u'lláh provide a wealth of spiritual teachings that assist us in progressing on this path towards maturity, and in building a peaceful and unified world.
Where can I find out more about the UK Bahá’í Community?You can learn more about the UK Bahá’í Community on the Official National Page. The Offical Website of the Worldwide Baha'i Community can be found here.
FoRB Case Study:
The Situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran
In most parts of the world, Bahá’ís are allowed to practice their faith freely. In Iran however, Bahá’ís - who are Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority - face severe and pervasive religious persecution, solely because of their religious beliefs. Although Bahá’ís are peaceful and politically impartial, the Iranian government adheres to an official policy of systematic repression and abuse against them.
Between 1978 and 1998, over 200 Bahá’ís were killed, and thousands more were tortured and imprisoned. While such executions have abated, the Bahá’í community continues to face extensive human rights violations. Bahá’ís are subject to arbitrary interrogations, arrests, and imprisonment, and they suffer vandalism, raids, and attacks on their homes and businesses. Bahá’ís are denied government jobs and barred from attending university, and they are the targets of an ongoing campaign of vilification in the state-sponsored media.
Despite the sustained efforts of the Iranian Bahá’í community to resolve the matter directly with the authorities of Iran, the rights and freedoms of the Iranian Bahá’ís has continued to be curtailed. Consequently, our office advocates on behalf of the Bahá’ís in Iran. We work closely with governmental and non-governmental organizations, including parliamentarians and civil servants, as well as the media, to raise awareness about the ongoing human rights violations in Iran, and to advocate for their freedom, dignity and human rights.