Convening on liberty

By Simon Barrow
February 28, 2009

Ekklesia is pleased to be involved in a major civil society event taking place across Britain today.

The live webcast of events can be watched on the Convention on Modern Liberty website.

Ekklesia is coordinating a conversation on 'faiths and freedoms' as part of the Convention gathering at the Institute of Education in London - 11.45 today, with speakers Keith Kahn-Harris (sociologist, New Jewish Thought), Savitri Hensman (equalities adviser, Christian commentator) and Vaughan Jones (CEO of Praxis, URC minsiter) plus a wide range of participants from faith and non-faith backgrounds. It will be an exciting event, we hope.

This was the brief the Convention organisers offered: "The centralising, technocratic impulse behind the ‘database state’ is a challenge to citizenship. But citizenship is itself much more than a legal status, it is a way of being in society that all the major faiths also address. Fundamental human rights have been supported by many faiths but does their secular character strike at the particularity of belief however powerful its humanism? Can faith communities have an influential role to play in defending as well as defining freedom in the 21st century?"

The discourse is wide. Unfortunately, however, Mohammed Aziz of Faithwise, a leading Muslim commentator who is also involved in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had to pull out late in the day because of unavoidable personal circumstances. Muslim speakers are involved in several other sessions, but in spite of concerted efforts we were unable to find a replacement panel member for this one.

Also unavailable to contribute directly was the Church of England Mission and Public Affairs Division. The C of E was widely commended for its opposition to the government's plans for 42-day detention under terror laws last year. But on the other hand it has expressed qualms about the Human Rights Act and sought exemptions from it.

Anglicans are deeply involved in debates about civil liberties and social justice (and indeed in Ekklesia!), but the structures of an Established church are perhaps more attuned to participation in 'counsels of power' than broad, civil society movements. A radical change of priorities is needed, many of us feel.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.