By Prof Sir Malcolm Evans, Professor of Public International Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Chair, United Nations Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture.*
In recent years the relative importance of religion as an issue of legal and political significance has increased considerably. For example, it took nearly forty years before the first human rights case concerning freedom of religion or belief came to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights; and in the 1990s official reports of the Council of Europe could express surprise that religion was still proving to be an important political factor in some parts of Europe. Few would advance such a claim today.
Some put this down to the rise in the numbers of religious believers globally; that is, religion is becoming more important simply because there are more religious believers. It is certainly the case that there are now more people with religious beliefs on the face of the planet than at any time in history. But this does not explain the rise in the importance of religion in global politics. Nor does the increase in the absolute numbers of religious believers necessarily undermine the argument – so popular in Europe for so long – that religion is becoming increasingly unimportant to public life. (more…)