Religion news 29 January 2024

Fiona Bruce MP. Image credit: Parliament TV

MPs move to make Freedom of Religion or Belief envoy a permanent role

MPs have taken a further step towards placing the role of the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief on a statutory footing, rather than keep it as an appointment at the discretion of the prime minister. The present post holder, Fiona Bruce MP, put forward the proposal in a private members’ bill in the Commons on Friday. She said that freedom of religion or belief was not “niche”, as hundreds of millions of men, women and children around the world suffer persecution and discrimination, citing statistics that one Christian is killed every two hours for their faith. Labour’s spokesperson Catherine West MP, backed the bill and said Labour would promote freedom of religion or belief as a key component of foreign policy. But it was important not to put rights in a hierarchy as against for example, women’s reproductive rights and protecting the LGBT+ community.  Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell backed the bill which now moves to the next stage through parliament.

Public buildings lit up in purple for Holocaust Memorial Day

Buildings across Britain were lit up in purple on Holocaust Memorial Day this weekend. Landmarks were emblazoned including the Millennium Wheel, the Bank of England, the Senedd, Blackpool Tower and multiple civic halls across the land. Organisers planned for 6 million candles to be lit in private homes and public places, to represent 6 million candles for 6 million lives lost during the Holocaust.

How war has brought stronger Jewish identity in Israel

Lianne Kolirin reports from Israel on how the war has changed religious affiliation. Although founded on religion, it has long been divided on the role faith should play in society. A rabbi tells her that Jewish identity has become stronger, with suffering, pain and antisemitism making the Jewish communities more aware they are part of one nation. In addition, people are wanting to be more connected to their traditions. There is anger towards Haredi men who have an exemption from conscription, and admiration for religious volunteers whose job is to honour the dead from terror attacks, accidents or disasters. Read Lianne’s report on our website here.

Pope decries war as a “defeat for humanity”

At his Angelus address at the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis decried suffering in Myanmar, the Middle East, Ukraine, and Haiti. He said: “Wars are a disaster for the people and a defeat for humanity”. Focusing on Myanmar, he appealed for the facilitation of humanitarian aid and for pursuing paths of dialogue, then turned his attention to Israel and Gaza: “And the same in the Middle East, Palestine and Israel, and wherever there is fighting: respect the people! I always think in a heartfelt way of all the victims, especially civilians, caused by the war in Ukraine. Please let their cry for peace be heard: the cry of the people, who are tired of violence and want the war, which is a disaster for the peoples and a defeat for humanity, to stop!”.

The Church of England is “an ecclesiastical version of the News of the World”

The Rev Graeme Sawyer, a survivor of abuse by the former Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball, has been speaking about the impact of the closure of the Church of England Independent Safeguarding Board on victims and survivors whose cases were being considered when it collapsed. He told the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 that he was among those affected: “I know that in our group of twelve .. some of our group attempted suicide. Some certainly had suicidal thoughts. Some were made physically and mentally very ill indeed”. The programme looked at a report from clinical psychologist, David Glasgow, who found that people in the group had been re-traumatised and their post-traumatic stress symptoms such as flashbacks and feeling worthless, had become much worse. In reply, Dr Jamie Harrison, a member of the Archbishops’ Council, agreed there had been rudimentary and elementary mistakes and acknowledged there was no formal risk assessment on the impact of the ISB closure on the victims. He hoped to regain trust through establishing a truly independent safeguarding board. But Graeme Sawyer said the response was “breathtakingly shallow, and shameless” and talk of renewing trust was too little too late. He drew an analogy to the News of the World, which was closed down “as a result of many failings and lack of confidence. It seems that the Church of England is a sort of ecclesiastical version of the News of the World”.

MPs to meet security minister over Sikh death threats

MPs are to meet the government’s security minister Tom Tugendhat this week, to express concern over the safety of Sikh activists living in Britain, following the naming of six British Sikhs on a “hit list” published on Indian media channels. West Midlands police have issued several “Osman warnings”, which are given when police become aware of a real and immediate threat to somebody’s life. The warnings follow the murder of a Sikh activist who supported an independent Khalistan, in a drive by shooting in Canada, which PM Justin Trudeau said had involved agents of the government of India. Three days earlier, another Khalistan supporter, Avtar Singh Khanda, 35,  died in Birmingham, England, from sudden acute myeloid leukaemia . Police say there were no suspicious circumstances but his family want a further investigation.  The MPs delegation is cross party and includes Labour’s Preet Kaur Gill.

Sir Stephen Timms says backing assisted suicide is not “left wing”

Labour MP Sir Stephen Timms, known for his deeply held Christian faith,  has entered the debate on allowing assisted dying saying the issue requires careful thought. Writing in Labour List, he says “it is a myth that support for such legislation is a left-wing idea in contrast to uncompassionate, reactionary Conservatives who wish to condemn those suffering to undignified deaths”. The proposal is back in the headlines after Esther Rantzen, who is seriously ill with cancer, voiced her support and Labour leader Keir Starmer indicated that if he were prime minister, he would allocate government time for a bill to discuss it. Sir Stephen points to previous votes, the last in 2015, where the proposal was comprehensively beaten. Labour MPs were deeply divided on the issue, and he says support for the legalisation of assisted suicide, “should not be the position of those of us on the left.” Writing for Labour List he referred to countries where it has been legalised such as Canda, Belgium and the Netherlands. He said: “As the party of the vulnerable, the voiceless and the victim, the stories that have emerged from these countries ought to give us significant pause for thought – data shows that people with disabilities, the poor and those who fear being a burden to their relatives are all at risk when assisted suicide is permitted, while investing in high-quality palliative care, which is harder to access for the impoverished, can easily be marginalised when assisted suicide is allowed”.

Teaching assistant sacked for views on LGBT+ curriculum wins right to take case to Court of Appeal

 A school teaching assistant who was sacked after criticising her son’s primary school on Facebook, for its curriculum content on LGBT+ relationships, has won the right to take her case to the Court of Appeal. Kristie Higgs, an evangelical Christian, who worked at Farmor’s secondary school in Fairford, said she was concerned about books on transgender ideology and featuring child characters confused about gender identity, with titles including “My princess boy” and “No Outsiders”. She also reposted a petition against making sex education compulsory in primary schools.  She was sacked for gross misconduct.  Five years of legal action ensued, including an employment tribunal and now the case is to go before the Court of Appeal later this year. She believes she has been discriminated against for her Christian beliefs expressed in her own time and not about the school where she worked.  She has been supported by the Christian legal centre.


  • The deadline for entries to the Sandford St Martin 2024 awards, for broadcasts about belief and ethics, is Wednesday 31 January. The categories are Journalism, Radio/Audio, TV/Video and Young Audience. Further details here.
  • CTVC is advertising for a radio and podcast researcher with a team that produces programmes for the BBC and other outlets.
  • Theos is looking for a marketing officer to take its podcast The Sacred to the next level.


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