The Freedom of Conscience Debate and Broader Implications for the NI Peace Process

This guest post is by Sean Molloy, a Principal’s Career Development Scholar in Law at the University of Edinburgh. Sean completed his LLB Law at Queen’s University Belfast, continuing to read for an LLM in Human Rights Law and Transitional Justice at the Transitional Justice Institute. Following a period working as a research assistant for a human rights solicitor, Sean began his PhD research at Edinburgh in September 2013. He edits the monthly Global Justice Academy Newsletter, and is a founding member of the Global Justice Society.

Freedom of Conscience in Northern Ireland

Conscience 1In December 2014 DUP MLA Paul Girvan introduced a Freedom of Conscience Bill aimed at allowing businesses to refuse services to a customer if they feel it is against their religious convictions. The Bill arose following the announcement of the Northern Ireland Equality Commission that they would be issuing legal proceedings against Ashers Baking Company for their refusal to accept an order for a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

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Whatever happened to freedom of conscience?

TK

Professor Toby Kelly is Head of Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and Deputy Director of the Global Justice Academy.

Northern Ireland MLA, Paul Givan has proposed a Freedom of Conscience Bill. Invoking a three hundred year tradition of freedom of conscience and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Givan calls for greater toleration of different beliefs.  Yet, Amnesty International has said the bill was ‘not welcome and is not needed at all’. Indeed, it went so far as to say ‘what is proposed is not a conscience clause, it is a discrimination clause’. At first glance this appears a little surprising, given that Amnesty first came to public prominence as an organization that campaigned explicitly for freedom of conscience, and Prisoners of Conscience still play a significant part in Amnesty’s activities.

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