Securing Religious Freedom: Why British Leadership on FoRB Should Be Written into Law

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Securing Religious Freedom: Why British Leadership on FoRB Should Be Written into Law

17th October 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

In the last five years, following a landmark report by the Bishop of Truro into Christian persecution worldwide, the promotion of international religious freedom has become a new priority, and a notable success story, for British diplomacy. But this vitally important policy now faces both risks from political change and Foreign Office inertia.

A new report from Marc Sidwell argues that to build on all that has been achieved, the government should act decisively, follow the recommendation of the Truro Report and make championing international religious freedom a duty of Whitehall that is written into law. The law which brought similar reforms to the United States government is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2023, and shows the enduring value of such a commitment. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the affirmation of this fundamental freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UK should mark the occasion by making a permanent commitment to religious freedom’s defence.

The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to gather a panel of experts to launch its latest report and discuss why the religious freedom should be government’s priority.



Marc Sidwell is Director of Research at The Henry Jackson Society. He has worked as a senior editor for the Telegraph and City A.M. and as publisher for the New Statesman. Marc has also written regularly for publications including Telegraph, The Critic, National Review and City A.M. He is a Senior Fellow at the New Culture Forum, and a graduate of Oxford and Warwick.



Malcolm Evans is Principal of Regent’s Park College, Oxford. Until 2022 he was Professor of Public International Law at the University of Bristol, where he also served as Head of the School of Law and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law. His particular areas of academic expertise include torture and torture prevention, the protection of religious liberty under international law and the international law of the sea, in particular the delimitation of maritime boundaries. From 2009 – 2020 he was a member, and from 2011- 2020 Chair, of the UN Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture (the SPT). From 2015-2022 he was a Member of the Statutory Panel of Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales (IICSA). From 2002 – 2013 he was a member of the OSCE ODIHR Advisory Council on the Freedom of Religion or Belief. He was General Editor of the International and Comparative Law Quarterly from 2013-2023 and is Co-Editor in Chief of the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion. Since 2010 he has been a member of the Foreign Secretary’s Advisory Group of Human Rights and in 2021 he was elected an Associate Member of the Institut du Droit Internationale.



Fabio Petito is Professor of Religion & International Affairs in the Department of International Relations at the University of Sussex, where he also leads the Freedom of Religion or Belief & Foreign Policy Initiative. He is also Head of the ISPI Programme on “Religions and International Relations” supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. He teaches, researches and publishes on different theoretical and policy aspects of the role of religion in global politics. His publications include Religion in International Relations (2003), Civilizational Dialogue and World Order (2009) and Towards a Postsecular International Politics (2014). Among his recent publications: Petito, F. (2020), “From Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) Advocacy to Interreligious Engagement in Foreign Policy”, Global Affairs, 6:3, 269-286 and Petito, F., Daou, F. and Driessen, M (2021), eds., Human Fraternity and Inclusive Citizenship: Interreligious Engagement in the Mediterranean (Milan, ISPI: Ledizioni, 2021).



Mervyn Thomas CMG is a Founder and President of CSW, a Christian advocacy organisation campaigning for FoRB for the past 44 years. He is also a Chair of the UK FORB Forum comprised of nearly 100 civil society groups advancing the cause of international freedom of religion or belief. Mervyn is a Member of the UK Foreign Secretary’s Human Rights Advisory Group, and he sits on the Panel of Experts advising the International Freedom of Religion and Belief Alliance.

Between 2006 – 2020, Mervyn was a Chair of the Religious Liberty Partnership, a worldwide network of more than 80 Christian organisations working for religious freedom. In 2019 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) by HM Queen, for services to Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief.



Fiona Bruce was appointed as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief in December 2020. Fiona became Member of Parliament for Congleton in 2010. Before 2010 Fiona practised as a solicitor, setting up her own business, the law firm Fiona Bruce & Co LLP, based in Cheshire.

Fiona has focused in Parliament on championing individual freedoms and human rights, both in this country and abroad, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Fiona served on the International Development Select Committee for 4 years and chaired the Parliamentary sub-committee overseeing the Independent Commission on Aid Inspections. She was also a member of the Parliamentary Joint-Committee on Human Rights for 5 years.

Fiona is a Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for North Korea and Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief.

In 2022 Fiona was elected as Chair of the 42-country International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, and was re-elected for a second term in 2023.






The Henry Jackson Society was delighted to launch Director of Research, Marc Sidwell’s report titled “Securing Religious Freedom: Why British Leadership on FoRB Should be Written into Law”. The panel consisted of a range of experts on the topic including Fiona Bruce MP, David Burrowes, Professor Sir Malcom Evans, Professor Fabio Petito and Mervyn Thomas. The discussion began with Bruce praising Marc’s work and building on the recommendations of his report by attempting to pass concrete legislation on FoRB matters within Parliament. Burrowes followed by stating that issues relating to FoRB are neither the monopoly of any single party or government but instead, are always treated as “cross-party concerns”. Marc expanded on Burrowes’ words by arguing that with the British general election drawing closer, now is the perfect time for FoRB matters to be placed on a “pedestal” and for policymakers to consider furthering the recent success of the “Truro Report”. Whilst Professor Petito and Mervyn Thomas disagreed on the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act forming the basis for potentially similar UK legislature, the panel closed with all participants agreeing that further education and awareness regarding FoRB concerns are obligatory because ultimately, “Faith matters in Foreign Policy”.





Committee Room 6, House of Commons
London, SW1A 0AA United Kingdom
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Marc Sidwell, Professor Sir Malcolm D Evans, KCMG, OBE, FLSW, Professor Fabio Petito, Mervyn Thomas CMG


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