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Conference decisions: support for humanist marriage; major commitment to freedom of expression and belief

March 20, 2015 3:04 PM

At the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Liverpool, the party has reaffirmed its commitment to promoting equality and tackling discrimination based on religion or belief, and on introducing humanist marriages in England and Wales.

The party also made a wide-range commitment to protect freedom of expression and belief, in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

THE PARTY MANIFESTO

The party declared that its General Election Manifesto agenda would include "Empowering every person to fulfil their own potential, regardless of their background, where necessary taking measures to promote equality and tackle discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, belief, age or disability."

The Manifesto would also commit to creating a fairer society by measures including "Giving legal recognition to humanist wedding ceremonies."

The commitments on religion, belief and humanist weddings are existing party policy but were not included in the original Manifesto proposals; they were added as a result of an amendment submitted by HSLD members.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF

In a later debate, the party unreservedly condemned the Paris attacks in January, atrocities committed by Islamic terrorists in Nigeria, the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and attacks and persecution of journalists in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

It rejected efforts to hold Muslims in general responsible for such criminal acts, which did not represent mainstream Islamic beliefs, and reaffirmed its commitment to tackling anti-Muslim hate, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice directed against people as individuals or groups.

It declared that no belief system or ideology should have any protection from criticism, and that religion should be treated in the same way as other forms of belief or ideology; that freedom of expression and of belief requires the freedom to commit acts that may be seen by others as sacrilege, blasphemy or apostacy, and that, while nobody has the right to directly abuse, harass, threaten or intimidate others, people do have the right to offend, and those who are offended have no right to respond by acts of violence or intimidation.

It called for the abolition or repeal of blasphemy and apostacy laws in Europe, the Commonwealth and beyond, and opposed attempts to introduce national or international laws on the "defamation of religion".

Members of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum proposed an amendment declaring that everyone has the right to practice a religion, or no religion, and to change their religion; the amendment called for the abolition of laws which interfere with the right to choose, practice or change one's religion or to have no religion. The amendment was supported by Gary McLelland, Chair of HSLD, and was overwhelmingly approved by voting members.

The motion as a whole was proposed by Maajid Nawaz, the party's General Election candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, and leading Liberal Democrat campaigner Evan Harris.

Party members, voting at Conference, decide policy, so the motion, as amended, is now official party policy.