Written evidence from Evangelical Alliance
1.1 The Evangelical Alliance,
formed in 1846, is the largest body serving evangelical Christians
in the UK and has a membership which includes denominations, churches,
organisations and individuals. The mission of the Evangelical
Alliance is to unite evangelicals to present Christ credibly as
good news for spiritual and social transformation. There are around
two million evangelical Christians in the UK.
1.2 The Evangelical Alliance endeavours
to maintain a strong voice in the Human Rights & Responsibilities
debate and to date has made significant contributions to the discussion
on rights in the UK as a whole and in Northern Ireland. Submissions
have been made to key government consultation papers on the topic,
most recently those from the Joint Committee on Human Rights (2006)
and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) (2007 &
A response was also made to the NIHRC's advice to the Secretary
of State (2009).
1.3 Furthermore the Revd Joel Edwards, former
General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, has recently been
appointed as a Commissioner to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
In taking up such an important role, Revd Edwards believes that
one of his primary responsibilities will be to ensure that Christian
values, including respect and tolerance, will play an effective
role in the commission.
2 A BRIEF CHRISTIAN
2.1 The Christian motive and theological
justification for engaging in the Human Rights debate is found
primarily in the concept of imago dei, in effect, that
all humans are created in God's image.
Among Christians the manner and degree to which this informs our
understanding may vary slightly. However there is general consensus
that the concept forges the foundation for our belief in a God
who desires us to be in relationship to him, each other and creation,
ultimately requiring of us to respect and value that which God
has made. It is in terms of this latter point that the dignity
of humansso widely quoted as the source of all human rightsis
understood by most evangelical Christians.
2.2 In light of this Christians broadly
support attempts to protect human beings from being de-valued
or treated with a lack of respect. The Bible further states that
we are created equal in God's eyes
and therefore one individual does not deserve any more or less
respect than another "
irrespective of any additional
quality such as nationality, intelligence, age or social status."
2.3 In addition, the deeply relational nature
of God and His creation is an integral part of Christians' daily
interactions with others. Where wrongs are committed, as they
undoubtedly will be, Christians believe that rather than focusing
on an infringement of rights we would be better to recognise the
breakdown and violation of human relationships and where possible
make appropriate steps towards reconciliation. Indeed, rights
and freedoms flourish most clearly in an environment where a focus
on the responsibilities intrinsic to successful relationships
exists. This is most explicitly encouraged by Jesus when He "delves
into the heart of the Torah to define what must surely be a universal
moral codethe so-called 'Golden Rule'".
2.4 The "Golden Rule" is part
of Jesus' response to the question "What must I do to inherit
He simply re-affirms two existing Old Testament laws, with which
his listeners would have been familiar, and explains that we must
love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. This strong emphasis
on respecting others and treating them as we would wish to be
treated can be seen through out Jesus' teachings.
2.5 Alongside the biblical and theological
precedence for a Christian involvement in the Human Rights debate
there is a strong historical association with the World Council
of Churches being key contributors to the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights document.
Having established these precedents it is, however, important
to highlight a few areas where evangelicals find themselves in
conflict with the current popular discourse.
2.6 Major concerns have been raised over
the current trend towards fierce individuality
at the expense of the relational vision which God has laid down
for his creation and how it is repositioning the human rights
debate firmly within a liberal humanistic arena. Focusing too
exclusively on "rights" does nothing to enrich our understanding
of society. Indeed, it can lead one to appreciate humankind merely
in terms of the sum of those rights, thus grossly under-valuing
the individuals whom the system seeks to protect.
2.7 Liberal individualism holds great faith
in humanity suggesting that education and protected freedoms (ie
human rights) can produce individuals who together make up a healthy
society. History gives us a less optimistic view, however, with
many well educated "tyrants" and wars/war crimes persisting
despite international human rights laws being in place to protect
victims from such brutality. The Bible foresees such a tendency
towards disorder and injustice whilst humankind's relationship
with God and each other is broken.
This relational component to society, as created by God, is therefore
critical to any understanding of a free and healthy society. A
relational society does not allow for the possibility of isolation
from responsibility towards others.
2.8 Indeed this link has been evident since
the conception of the debate on rights and appears, without negative
effect, in both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights
and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Christians are not against the protection of a person's
God given value, in essence their "human rights". However,
individual Christians motivated by their beliefs aim to hold their
personal responsibilities above that of their personal rights.
The positive outcomes associated with such behaviour can only
benefit society and hence we would strongly call for responsibilities
to be more widely acknowledged and encouraged in the current rights
2.9 By engaging with Human Rights, Christians
are not trying to highjack a fashionable concept or put a spiritual
spin on a secular philosophy. The very theory behind Human Rights
has its origins in Judeo-Christian thinking. It is the comparatively
recent move away from intrinsic responsibility towards individualism
that has put distance between the approaches. Indeed, there is
a critical duty to maintain a Christian voice on this issue.
3 BILL OF
3.1 The Bill of Rights Forum, set up to
prepare detailed recommendations for the NIHRC on which they would
base their advice for the Secretary of State, was made up of representatives
from the political parties, voluntary/community sector, private
sector, and the churches. Nonetheless, given the nature of the
voluntary/community sector in Northern Ireland this apparently
broad group was in fact characterised by the under-representation
of unionist perspectives and a lack of breadth from the Christian
3.2 We also raised questions about the Forum's
almost immediate creation of working groups to examine and report
on areas of Human Rights including Children and Young People,
Women, Criminal Justice and Victims, Economic and Social Rights,
Culture, Identity and Language, Civil and Political Rights, and
Preamble, Enforcement and Implementation. This highlighted an
assumption regarding the scope for the Bill, in our view far in
excess of the original remit, right from the outset.
3.3 Despite an outreach programme being
established during the latter stages of the Forum's process, even
the Chairperson for the Human Rights Consortium admitted that
they had concerns over the effectiveness of engagement with the
3.4 The Forum presented its advice in March
which the NIHRC subsequently took as the basis for its recommendations
to the Secretary of State on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland
which it symbolically handed over on 10 December 200860 years
after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
However the Forum's lengthy report containing over 200 proposals
failed to gain cross-community support even from within the Forum
thus placing serious doubts over its suitability to be used in
such a way by the NIHRC.
3.5 Polls have used during the process to
endorse a "strong and inclusive" Bill of Rights such
as the one carried out by the Human Rights Consortium which documented
75% public support. We believe that caution must be taken when
applying such figures as this particular survey merely measured
the backing for a Bill of Rights not guidance on what it
should contain or how far it should go.
4 BILL OF
4.1 As already discussed, responsibilities
strengthen rights. Responsibilities have the power to place rights
in the most conducive context for creating a free and healthy
society. Failure to recognise this will only serve to undermine
the effectiveness of the Bill. It is with this in mind that we
believe the omission of any reference to responsibility from the
NIHRC advice is of grave concern.
4.2 Once the right foundation has been laid
establishing the appropriate scope of such a Bill will be vital
in order to gain cross-party and community support. A maximalist
approach, like that taken by the NIHRC, embraces with great zeal
several issues including: cultural expression and identity, social
and economic rights, criminal justice, and rights of victims,
women, children, the elderly, disabled people and minority groups.
At times, passions have run so high that it is implied that those
opposing this broad interpretation of the Bill's remit do not
care about inequality, deprivation, the vulnerable and even peace
in Northern Ireland. It is crucial to state that this is far from
the truth; many objectors to the maximalist interpretation are
ardent advocates for peace, equality and social justice in Northern
Ireland. Whilst the Belfast Agreement did raise many of these
same matters in the context of "rights, safeguards and equality
they were not specifically discussed with reference to the Bill
of Rights but in terms of other political measures being/to be
4.3 Despite great efforts on behalf of the
NIHRC to argue to the contrary, some of the proposed rights have,
at best, tenuous links to the "particular circumstances of
Northern Ireland". It is possible (as the NIHRC have demonstrated)
to highlight certain current differences in the areas of education,
health and the environment between Northern Ireland and England.
However, these and similar disparities can be found within and
between various regions through out the UK and most could be addressed
by a UK wide Bill of Rights, if not already covered by existing
4.4 In contrast there are a number of issues/rightsvery
"particular" to Northern Ireland's circumstancesthat
have been addressed with surprising brevity considering the maximalist
approach adopted by the NIHRC. For example, no additional rights
or amendments to existing rights were proposed for the areas of
"Freedom of thought, conscience and religion", "Freedom
of expression" and "Freedom of assembly and association".
Religious rights were only added to with reference to minority
groups. Further, whilst there is one recommendation regarding
assemblies and parades, NIHRC advise that it is not for inclusion
in a Bill of Rights.
4.5 It appears special effort has been made
throughout the document to make reference to particular groups
who have previously faced discrimination; however this can create
problems of its own. Part 2 of "The Right to Equality
and Prohibition of Discrimination" lists over thirty specific
grounds/status groups and whilst it leaves open the possibility
for others it potentially weakens their case due to the lack of
inclusion in such an extensive list. Also, in the desire to make
reference to some minority groups, unnecessary rights such as
those to terminate civil partnerships (and marriages) which already
exist in law have been included.
4.6 The purpose of a Bill of Rights for
any country, including Northern Ireland, is to promote and protect
the fundamental rights of the people of that country. This applies
to all people and should never be limited to a certain
group or groups. Caution must be taken to avoid language that
suggests a return to "group rights", even when recognising
the "two communities" culture present in the Northern
4.7 Some of the advice given by the NIHRC
has, in places, much wider implications than is immediately obvious.
One example is seen in the significant number of services provided
by faith based organisations (eg churches) within our communities.
If, in line with the recommendations, all bodies accepting public
funding were to come under the legal requirements of official
public authorities many faith based organisation may feel compelled
to cease their activities due to a perception that such requirements
may be incompatible with their ethos.
4.8 The Evangelical Alliance greatly desires
to see the Assembly, currently in its infancy, develop into a
robust legislature that sets the agenda for our country. Yet,
in giving feedback to the Human Rights Consortium Conference working
groups from the Bill of Rights Forum admitted that they found
themselves "straying into policy and getting the lines blurred
between what were substantive rights and what [they] wanted to
do in order to change policy".
Social and economic rights are most subject to this confusion.
However the difficulty lies not with the actual concepts being
suggested but with the medium in which they are being carried
forward. The advice from the NIHRC contains many constructive
for dealing with problems faced in Northern Ireland, but some
are proposals that should be put through the rigours of our democratic
political process not enshrined in a Bill of Rights. This has
the potential to undermine the newly formed democracy in Northern
Ireland and ultimately reduce the trust placed in our elected
4.9 Additionally, with major policy changes
planned in certain areas, for example education and language,
it would be premature for a Bill of Rights to make detailed judgements
that might later affect the plans already in progress. If these
issues are to be included in a Bill in any detail it would be
prudent to, at the very least, wait upon the outcome of political
decisions before proceeding. Better still; seek more favourable
legislative and strategic planning avenues for dealing with many
of these pressing issues.
4.10 Whilst those supporting a maximalist
interpretation would likely favour detailed clauses and prescriptive
language leaving very little room for non-compliance and abuse
of "loop-holes", the reality has been proposals of the
opposite extreme. In an attempt to gain greater support for a
document that otherwise would have been an impossible noose around
the government's neck, phrases like "progressive realisation"
and "margin of discretion" have been included alongside
many other qualifying clauses. However this has caused the language
to become confusing and hugely subjective, open to multiple interpretations
thus weakening the enforceability.
4.11 In the process of compiling this and
preceding documents very little reference has been made to the
wider political context in which the debate takes place, including
proposed reform to UK Human Rights legislation. The discussion
has frequently become an academic m l
e between highly skilled political, legal and ethical
minds devoid of true application to the realities in which the
Northern Irish political engine functions.
4.12 A Bill of Rights may help substantiate
a commitment to a positive and "just" future for Northern
Ireland, however it will not, indeed, can not heal
the many problems and hurts of the past. All the iniquities and
injustices resulting from the years of conflict cannot be set
straight in one piece of legislationespecially a Bill of
Rights. Any attempts to achieve such an aim through this Bill
will lead only to disappointment and further political disagreement.
5.1 The Evangelical Alliance is strongly
committed to building a positive future for Northern Ireland.
We believe in a shared responsibility for achieving a society
that is transformed by hope, imagination and active citizenship.
5.2 If a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland
is to be part of that future we believe certain points must be
The Bill should be set within the context
of a relational society where rights are protected and exercised
whilst recognising responsibility towards others. Guidance on
the relationship between rights and responsibility for Northern
Ireland must therefore appear within the Preamble.
The current trend to equate only a maximalist
Bill of Rights with a commitment to poverty, the vulnerable and
peace in Northern Ireland is both distracting and divisive and
should be addressed with great urgency.
By giving much greater priority to achieving
political and cross-community consensus, a natural filter could
be placed upon rights with arguably more tenuous links to the
"particular circumstances of Northern Ireland".
If a Bill of Rights is to be put in place
religious freedom for all in Northern Ireland must be emphasised.
The shift in Northern Ireland's political
and ethnic make-up should be reflected in the wording of the document.
Very great care should be taken to avoid exclusive or out-dated
language. A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland must reflect,
but not be confined by, the shift in make-up and circumstances
of the population.
The boundary between issues that can
be dealt with within a Bill of Rights and those that should remain
in the domain of the democratic political process must not be
ignored. This is especially important given the infancy of shared
power for devolved matters in Northern Ireland.
More "joined-up" thinking and
planning that keeps wider practicalities and political context
in mind is essential if this Bill is to leave the realms of isolated
intellectual debate and truly benefit the people of Northern Ireland.
Clarity should be given to the aims of
the Bill, highlighting its potential as an aspirational document
for a society committed to change rather than one to deal with
the hurts of the past. A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland must
not be treated as a panacea.
76 www.eauk.org Back
Statististics from Tearfund's Churchgoing in the UK, April
Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland, 2000, A Shared
Vision? Human Rights and the Church, p30 & Evangelical
Alliance UK, 2007, Faith and Nation-Report of a Commission
of Inquiry to the UK Evangelical Alliance, Appendix 3 p147 Back
Luke 10:25-37, Galatians 3:28 Back
Matthis de Blois, "The Foundation of Human Rights: A Christian
Perspective", in Paul R. Beaumont (ed.), 1998, Christian
Perspectives on Human Rights and Legal Philosophy Back
Evangelical Alliance UK, 2007, Faith and Nation-Report of a Commission
of Inquiry to the UK Evangelical Alliance, Appendix 3 p148 Back
Luke 10: 25-37 (NIV) Back
Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland, 2000, A Shared
Vision? Human Rights and the Church, p33 Back
Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 29:18, Romans 7:18-25 (NIV) Back
Jeremy Ive, "Relationships in the Christian Tradition"
in Schluter, M. & Ashcroft, J. 2005, Jubilee Manifesto-A frame
work, agenda and strategy for Christian social reform, IVP Back
UDHR, ticle 1 Back
ECHR, Article 10 Back
Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland, 2000, A Shared
Vision? Human Rights and the Church, p31 Back
The Agreement, 1998, Section 6 Back
Patricia McKeown, "Getting the Bill Right-An Update, Panel
6:Economic & Social Rights" p2 www.billofrightsni.org/documents/members/9_-_Economic__Social_Rights.pdf Back
Especially regarding children in the criminal justice system,
see The Right to Liberty and Security (pp24-27). Less constructive
policy style proposals include ones that either require non-devolved
powers (eg p50 part 1) or are simply impossible to establish
as a right (eg p 46 part 2). Back
For example "Everyone has the right to adequate accommodation
appropriate to their needs. Public authorities must take appropriate
measures including legislative measures, to the maximum of their
available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the
full realisation of this right." (Italics added) from The
Right to Accommodation, Part 1 (p47) Back