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Promoting freedom of religion is a priority for British foreign policy but that does not include a policy to defend Christians under attack, a government minister said this week.
Mark Simmonds, a Foreign Office minister, was speaking during a debate in the House of Commons on the persecution of Christians which had been moved by Jim Shannon, a Democratic Unionist Party MP.
Mr Simmonds said freedom of religion was “a fundamental human rights priority for this Government” and was a matter British ambassadors and ministers lobbied other countries about.
He said that a toolkit to monitor and address concerns about freedom of religion had been given to Foreign Office staff and inspired the European Union’s own guidelines on freedom of religion and belief.
But Mr Simmonds said the Government did not believe that making it a policy to defend Christians would help.
“There is a risk of isolating them from the wider populations, identifying them as something of a fifth column and even exacerbating the persecution that they may be suffering,” he said.
While he said the Government would speak out against persecution of Christians and took the matter seriously, he pointed to the Central African Republic where Muslims are persecuting Christians and Christians persecuting Muslims.
Mr Simmonds also cited Baroness Warsi’s recent speech to Georgetown University in the United States and her work in this area (see right).
The debate heard that one Christian is killed every 11 minutes somewhere in the world for their faith and Sir Edward Leigh, a Catholic MP, accused the Government of not taking the persecution of Christians seriously enough. It also emerged in the debate that the Foreign Secretary has set up an advisory group on freedom of religion that will meet twice a year.