Press Releases

Press Release on 30th March Conference, “The Future of Conscience in an Age of Intolerance”

The challenge of being faithful to your conscience in a climate of illiberal ‘tolerance’ will be the focus of a conference in Belfast on Saturday organised by by The Iona Institute NI.

Iona NI Spokeswoman Tracy Harkin states; “Freedom of conscience has become a major issue of our time. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion are the hallmark of any genuinely pluralist and democratic society.

Freedom of conscience is protected as a fundamental human right under the European convention on human rights, Yet recent examples in Ireland, the UK, and other countries show concerted attempts are underway to eradicate this right. Medical professionals, teachers, business owners, and parents have all been impacted.

Medical professionals in particular are experiencing increasing discrimination in the workplace because of their beliefs. The Irish Government’s recent insistence that the majority of GPs who conscientiously object to abortion will be forced to refer to another doctor, has led to major discontent among the Irish medical profession.

In Sweden Ellinor Grimmark, a midwife who refused to carry out abortions, has been forced to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights as she is unable to get work in a public hospital- even though Sweden is a country with a shortage of midwives.

In the UK Muslim, Christian, and other concerned parents are being told they cannot withdraw their children from Government-sponsored school programmes which teach young children that gender is not biologically given but a matter of choice.

Last week Catholic media commentator Caroline Farrow was instructed by police to present herself for questioning after being reported for using the wrong pronoun to describe a transgender girl on twitter.

Closer to home, the McArthur family had to endure a costly, four-and-a-half-year legal battle when their bakery politely refused to ice a cake with a political slogan, and the case against them was backed by the equality commission.

Whatever your views on the particular morality of abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage or gender ideology, surely freedom of conscience should be explicitly protected in law and practice.

In the absence of such protections there is a danger that simply expressing the Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage and human sexuality, for example, could become a hate crime.

Ironically we are in danger of becoming an intolerant, illiberal society in the name of tolerance!”

Against this background, Saturday’s conference, entitled ‘The Future of Conscience in an Age of Intolerance’, will help explore this hugely important issue.  Iona NI is delighted to welcome an expert line-up of speakers.

These include legal expert and member of the House of Lords, Nuala O’Loan DBE, who is currently campaigning for conscience rights through her sponsorship of a parliamentary bill which seeks to protect the freedom of conscience of medical professionals.

Dr Helen Watt is a Senior Research Fellow at the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford whose publications and research interests include reproductive ethics, action theory and issues of cooperation and conscientious objection.

Benedict Ó Floinn, Senior Counsel and trial advocate, has been a prominent participant in the various debates to amend the Irish Constitution and has appeared in a wide range of landmark cases involving human rights and constitutional provisions.

David Smyth is a former solicitor who leads on public policy for the Evangelical Alliance NI and represents them on a range of government, civic and charitable forums.

The event will take place in the Wellington Park Hotel Belfast on Saturday 30th March from 10 -1.30pm .Speakers are available for interviews. For all media inquiries email or call Tracy Harkin at 07531149891