International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief

Cheryllyn Dudley, MP: Freedom of religion or belief: When religion becomes part of the problem, it has to become part of the solution

As one of 100 parliamentarians from 60 countries who met last week (12-14 Sept 2016) in Berlin for workshops and seminars under the title, “An Embattled Right: Protecting and Promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief, ACDP Member of the South African Parliament, Cheryllyn Dudley said, “I came away from the conference with a very real sense that when religion becomes part of the problem it has to become part of the solution. Respecting diversity and freedom to choose cannot be one-sided – the respect must be mutual!”

MP Dudley was one of three South African MPs who attended this conference – Berlin was MP Kwankwa of the UDM’s second conference and Hon Singh of the IFP’s first.

Cheryllyn Dudley, MP (South Africa) with Nqabayomzi Lawrence Saziso Kwankwa, MP (South Africa) at the German Bundestag

Cheryllyn Dudley, MP (South Africa) with Nqabayomzi Lawrence Saziso Kwankwa, MP (South Africa) at the German Bundestag

“…respecting diversity and freedom to choose cannot be one-sided – the respect must be mutual!”

The first #IPP_FoRB conference I attended was in Oslo in 2014 where the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) officially came in to being. That was followed by New York in 2015 and Berlin in 2016.

IPPFoRB is an informal network of parliamentarians and legislators from around the world committed to combatting religious persecution and advancing freedom of religion or belief, as defined by Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration for Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Dr. Angela Merkel commended for ‘doing good!’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened on the last day of the conference in Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag, on 14 September. She was enthusiastically received by the 300 participants – including NGOs, church representatives and media. IPP Executive committee member Elizabeth Berridge (House of Lords UK) commended the Chancellor for ‘doing good’ with reference to Germany’s ‘welcome’ policy, and the sheltering of so many refugees from countries where minority Christians are being persecuted – Syria, Iraq and many others.

“Where understanding dispels fear and respect gains trust there will be greater potential for peaceful co-existence. Agreeing to disagree is an important skill that can be taught!”

Dr Merkel said that better education is the key to understanding and to ensuring a more productive dialogue between cultures and religions. She expressed a desire to see Germany promote compulsory religious education for every child in school. Merkel stressed that the concerns of communities must be taken seriously and while freedom of religion guarantees the right to be different, for her, the wearing of a full veil in public hinders integration and should not be allowed in public places such as courts, or for government employees such as teachers.

Commenting on this, ACDP MP & IPP Member Cheryllyn Dudley said that, “Where understanding dispels fear and respect gains trust there will be greater potential for peaceful co-existence. Agreeing to disagree is an important skill that can be taught!”

“persecution and the violation of human rights have never been worse…”

Volker Kauder, Chairman of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union of Germany Party (CDU), who has campaigned against the persecution of Christians for their faith, said: “persecution and the violation of human rights have never been worse than at this moment… in previous years the persecution came from governments…it is now coming from non-government forces such as ISIS, Boko Haram and others…”

Johannes Singhammer, Vice-President of the German Bundestag, expressed concern that the on-going war in the Middle East is not only destroying the historic Christian heritage of thousand-year-old buildings but that 700,000 or more of the one million plus Christians in Iraq before the 2003 war, have fled the country. Quoting information from Open Doors, an international charity that supports Christians under pressure, he said persecution is on the rise. One solution, he said, could be “to cut the money flow to oppressive governments”.

“…blasphemy law…misused to persecute Christians…”

Asiya Nasir, MP (Pakistan) with Cheryllyn Dudley, MP (South Africa)

Asiya Nasir, MP (Pakistan) with Cheryllyn Dudley, MP (South Africa)

Asiya Nasir from Pakistan, a founding member of the IPPFoRB, was another speaker. Nasir, a Christian, is in her third term in the National Assembly of Pakistan, where she is in the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Party as a minority MP and has earned the respect of Muslim MPs. She said churches in Pakistan are allowed to have their own buildings and gather for services, but members are prohibited from sharing their faith with non-Christians. The blasphemy law prevents Christians from doing so – it has also been misused to persecute Christians, she said, citing the example of Shahzad and Shama Masih, a young Christian couple burned alive by a mob after it was announced from a mosque’s loudspeakers that they had burnt a copy of the Qur’an. Due to Nasir’s work as an MP, mosques are no longer allowed to use their speakers for this purpose.

“Freedom of Religion & Belief is not freedom to impose on others”

During the conference, MP Cheryllyn Dudley said that “South Africa is regarded by human rights monitors as having high levels of freedom of religion and belief and, while this is true in many respects, a veiled threat to this freedom exists in the form of intolerance and extremism. Extremism in the name of Islam, Christianity, Gender and LGBT activism rears its head periodically in the form of hatred and violence – both verbal and physical.

Living in peace and respecting the right of other people to be different than us must be done on purpose – it also requires determination not to allow emotions and hurts to dictate our actions. Yes we should be free to express the view that our way is a better way, but we have to accept other people’s right to disagree and express their opinion. We do not have to like it or agree but we do have to accept their right to hold that view and express it.

Gender and LGBT activists have targeted Christian churches in South Africa attempting to force Christians and churches to discard sections of the Bible – through legislative amendments and accusations of human rights abuses; this is a violation of freedom of religion and an on-going challenge. Fortunately, our courts have made some rational decisions in this regard which have been helpful.

Christians can also choose to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem by choosing to live their values and principals without compromise yet show respect, love and kindness toward those who make different choices for themselves. Neither Christians nor secular activists are free to impose their choices and lifestyles on others.

Respect for the dignity of every human being must be our priority.

During the Conference, four advocacy letters addressing specific religious-freedom concerns in Eritrea, Pakistan, Sudan and Vietnam were signed by IPPFoRB associates. Within them were several names of church leaders who are imprisoned, in detention or under house arrest solely for practising their religion. Also criticised in the letters were: torture of prisoners, the confiscation and demolition of church buildings, and forbidding the distribution of books and scriptures.

“…freedom of religion or belief is an embattled right and the defining issue of our time.”

David Anderson, an MP from Canada and member of the IPPFoRB Steering Group, said: “Make no mistake, with 74% of the world’s population living in countries with high or very high restrictions or hostilities, freedom of religion or belief is an embattled right and the defining issue of our time. Freedom to believe is what shapes our common humanity and, if we are not careful, we risk losing it.”

CHERYLLYN DUDLEY has been an African Christian Democratic Party Member of Parliament in the National Assembly since June 1999. She has been the ACDP Parliamentary Whip since September 2005 and was elected Chief Whip of smaller political parties during the 3rd and 5th democratic parliaments.

She is presently serving on the portfolio committees of International Relations and Co-operation and Social Development and has previously served on Health, Basic Education, Higher Education, Human Settlements, Ethics, Trade & Industry, Public Enterprises, Minerals & Energy, Agriculture & Land Affairs, Water & Forestry, Arts Culture, Science & Technology, Public Accounts (SCOPA) and Women in the Presidency.

Ms Dudley has travelled to many parts of Africa including Sudan, Algeria &’ Cote d’Ivoire – the Middle East including Israel, Palestine & Iran – and Europe including the EU Parliament – Chile & Brazil, the United States and Australia & New Zealand in her work on portfolio committees.

Hon. Dudley has been a member of the IPPFoRB – International Panel of Parliamentarians – since 2014 and a large part of her work at Parliament focuses on the protection of Freedom of Religion and Belief.

She is married to Demi Dudley, ACDP Councilor and they have four children between the ages of 42 and 22 years, and three grandchildren.