Religious freedoms erosion 'endangers faith communities' help to common good'

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Religious freedoms in everyday life are being eroded in modern Britain, a new report warns.

Magistrates, teachers, foster parents, doctors, and therapists have been disciplined, demoted, or sacked for living in accordance with their beliefs, the paper from think tank ResPublica said.

Compromises to religious freedom "seriously endanger" the contributions of faith communities to the common good, the study argued.

It called for the Government to press ahead with a British Bill of Rights, incorporating a duty to make a "reasonable accommodation" for religious beliefs. 

Phillip Blond, director of ResPublica, said: "By refusing people the right to wear a cross or headscarf at work we are eroding the good that could be achieved.

"We hear a lot about the bad things people do in the name of religion but all faiths actually have a role to play in bringing communities together and stopping division.

"Those who go to church, temple or mosque are far more likely to act in the public good whether it is helping deliver meals on wheels or running toddler clubs, or simply being part of a group of like-minded people."

A number of cases have attracted scrutiny in recent years, including legal battles involving the right of Christian employees to wear crosses at work.

An opinion issued by an adviser to the European Court of Justice earlier this year said employers may be able to ban Muslim staff from wearing headscarves to work - as long as it is part of a general prohibition on all religious symbols.

Conservative MP David Burrowes welcomed the new report.

He said: "Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but recently we have seen it being downgraded compared to other human rights.

"Religious freedom is a universal human right which is foundational to a good society, and should not be shunned or marginalised."

Chief executive of Christian Action Research & Education, Nola Leach said: "Religious freedom can be seen as a luxury - but it is an essential human right that must be protected.

"We must allow for reasonable accommodation for religious belief in UK law so that policymakers and judges can balance the rights and freedoms that different groups and individuals are entitled to in the UK most effectively."

Gurmel Singh, secretary general of the Sikh Council UK, said: "The freedom of religion is an essential right in a free society; one that guarantees individuals the right to live according to their beliefs and to express their religion openly in the public sphere."