Over 20 MPs and peers from across both Houses have written to the Prime Minister regarding his recent appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as his Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The letter, organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure Ms Bruce adopts an inclusive approach in her new role, including upholding the right to freedom of belief for the non-religious and for women and LGBT+ people, given her concerning record across these areas.
Ms Bruce was appointed the Special Envoy in late December. Humanists UK expressed alarm at her appointment given her record of seeking to undermine the right to freedom of belief of the non-religious, women’s, and LGBT people. For example, she has worked to block the teaching of humanism in the curriculum, signed an EDM calling on the House of Commons to encourage people to pray to be ‘closer to God’, chairs the ‘Pro-Life’ APPG, which seeks to deny women freedom of conscience in abortion, and voted against the decriminalisation of abortion in Nothern Ireland, and against giving same-sex couples the civil right to marriage, in 2019.
The letter reads:
We are writing to express our concerns at your recent appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as your Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief and ask you to urgently reconsider it for the following reasons:
Ms Bruce is a longstanding opponent of freedom of religion or belief for the non-religious. She has dedicated much time and effort to ensure teaching of non-religious worldviews is excluded in English schools. This is in defiance of court rulings that inclusive teaching is required to ensure freedom of religion or belief, and in contravention to the approach of several international agreements to which the UK is a signatory, which emphasises that such teaching is an essential part of freedom of religion or belief.
Beyond this, her views and actions on wider and related human rights, such as the human rights and right to freedom of religion or belief of women and LGBT+ people, are incompatible with this post. She is Chair of the ‘Pro-Life’ APPG and has worked for years to restrict abortion rights, which stands in stark contrast with the Government’s own policy on the human rights of women. Ms Bruce has voted against extending civil rights to same-sex couples on numerous occasions, including their right to same-sex marriage. It is clear that she does not view freedom of religion or belief as part of a wider package of human rights that are universal, indivisible, and interrelated: a crucial minimum for anyone who aspires to represent the UK.
While we acknowledge Ms Bruce’s personal right to such actions and opinions in a free and fair country, we do not consider they are aligned with the UK’s commitments on freedom of religion or belief. Global stakeholders will recognise this and her appointment will undermine the UK’s ability to advocate for human rights generally and freedom of religion or belief specifically. Accordingly we seek your urgent reassurance that your envoy will promote the interests of those who identify with humanist values, usually non-religious, and address the anxieties this appointment brings LGBT+ people given her record and who would like it confirmed for example that her views on conversion therapy mirror your own. If Ms Bruce is unable to articulate your own publicly expressed views on these matters you will surely want to reconsider this appointment altogether.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘We are pleased to see MPs and peers raise concerns and seek assurances about the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
‘As the letter notes, her views are legitimate in a free and fair society, but they are not consistent with the role she has been given. We urge the Prime Minister to swiftly ensure she will carry out the duties in an inclusive matter, or else reconsider the appointment.’
The All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group is a cross-party group of members of the House of Commons and Lords of all the main parties. The Group is co-chaired by Crispin Blunt MP and Baroness Bakewell. Humanists UK provides the secretariat.
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
The letter has been signed by the following MPs and peers:
Crispin Blunt MP
Tommy Sheppard MP
Clive Lewis MP
Andy Slaughter MP
Dame Angela Eagle MP
Dr Caroline Lucas MP
Rachel Hopkins MP
Hannah Bardell MP
Vivendra Sharma MP
Baroness Taylor of Bolton
Lord Taverne QC
Baroness Burt of Solihull
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.