'Do human rights laws pose a threat to religious freedom?'

Series Name Professorial Inaugural Lecture
Speaker Professor Peter Cumper from the School of Law
Type Lectures & Talks
Starts at Mar 17, 2015 05:30 PM
Ends at Mar 17, 2015 06:30 PM
Venue Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1
Open To Public
Ticket Price Free
For Bookings Contact Anyone wishing to attend a lecture, whether student, staff or public, should contact inaugural@le.ac.uk

Professor Peter Cumper from the School of Law will give his professorial inaugural lecture entitled 'Do human rights laws pose a threat to religious freedom?' on 17 March 2015 in Ken Edwards Building Lecture Theatre 1.

Human rights are ‘a good thing’. Few would, in principle, challenge such a statement. After all, the development of human rights law has, in the last century, been based on the premise that it is necessary to protect every person from arbitrary governance and state tyranny. Yet, in practice, there is often a stark contrast between the worthy rhetoric of human rights documents and events on the ground. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the ambivalence of many governments to their human rights obligations, concerns have been expressed about the implementation and very efficacy of international human rights law. Support for human rights norms is evidently far from universal. But what seems particularly surprising is that, in recent years, some of the most vocal critics of human rights instruments and their interpretation by judges have been prominent religious leaders. These leaders, typically from conservative faith backgrounds, have often levelled the charge that, far from protecting their beliefs, human rights laws threaten to undermine their religious values, traditions and freedoms.

So how can it be that international human rights law, which expressly guarantees freedom of religion as a fundamental human right, is seen by some people of faith as being the legal equivalent of a ‘Trojan horse’. More specifically, why is it that Europe’s primary human rights instrument, the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), should today be castigated by various ecclesiastical figures as posing a threat to their religious freedom?

This lecture will examine such questions. It will explore how and why human rights laws have increasingly been viewed by some faith groups as being less ‘friend than foe’. An analysis will be provided of the ‘benefits’ and ‘burdens’ of human rights legislation for faith groups, and attention will also be focused on recent cases involving religious believers, who complain about having fallen foul of human rights law. Finally, the lecture will aim to draw out the challenges and opportunities created by the enactment of human rights legislation for people of faith, or not, in 21st century Britain.

Peter joined the School of Law in September 1997. He is originally from Northern Ireland. In growing up just outside Belfast during the violent years of the 70s and 80s (the ‘Troubles’), he developed an early interest in the influence of religion on public affairs. Today this interest remains, and it continues to influence his work in his particular area of expertise – human rights law.

Peter has published widely on the area of religion and human rights, and in 2011 he was invited, as an expert witness, to give evidence to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the issue of freedom of religion in contemporary Europe.

Peter’s work in the field of law and religion has had a clear international dimension. It has led not just to his participation in academic conferences all over the world, but to the delivery of classes (and courses) to judges and legal practitioners from jurisdictions as varied as the UK, the former USSR and Iran.

Closer to home, Peter has been actively involved in cultural, legal, and religious matters in Leicester. For example, he has appeared on Radio Leicester, written in the Leicester Mercury, spoken at the Leicestershire Inter-Faith Forum, and regularly chairs events in Leicester during the annual Inter-faith week.

Peter has attracted funding for his research in the past from groups such as the British Academy and the European Science Foundation, while he is currently the recipient of an AHRC network award on the law relating to school worship.

Peter has undertaken a wide range of administrative responsibilities since joining the University of Leicester, and he is currently the Director of the LLB programme. He continues to teach modules on Constitutional and Human Rights Law on the undergraduate degree programme, and is the module convenor for his own postgraduate modules on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion. In 2005 Peter was the recipient of a University Teaching Fellowship, “in recognition of teaching excellence”.

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