Thursday, 19 February 2009

Is Someone In Care Allowed To Change their Religion?

This story, which I know is a bit old, but I think it’s important to comment on.

Briefly, a sixteen year old girl who was identified as being from a Muslim family was in care.  She decided that she wanted to change her religion and become a Christian.  In response to this, she was removed from her foster-carer who was then suspended because “council officials allegedly accused her of failing to ‘respect and preserve’ the child’s faith”.

This raises really important issues.

Should we assume that minor children will automatically have the religion of their parents?

Many people assume that they should or will.  But as Richard Dawkins points out, we don’t assign other labels to children – we don’t, for example, call the children of Conservatives, Conservatives.  We appreciate that while most children do follow their parents in terms of religion or politics, it is up to the child when he or she reaches maturity to decide such things.

It is also worth noting that children are not the property of their parents, and do not owe parents a duty to follow a particular religion any more than we would expect a young adult to follow a line of work suggested by their parents.

This must also be true of children in care.  Assumptions should not be made about the child’s interest (or lack thereof) in a particular religion.  It is natural that carers should attend to the “spiritual needs” of a child (whatever those might be!) by introducing them to the rites and rituals they would be introduced to as a matter of course for their community in a regular family, but it should not be more than that.

What is more important, the rights of the girl or the rights of the community?

The most obnoxious aspect of this episode is the assumption by the social workers that because the girl was from a family of Muslims, that she was a Muslim herself.  Furthermore, because she was thought to be a Muslim then the Sharia provisions against changing one’s religion away from Islam were used by the social workers.

This gives the biggest insight into why Sharia Law should be opposed.  Sharia law is fundamentally against allowing individuals making their own choices about how to live their life.  Apostasy from Islam is not allowed because Islam is the supposed perfect religion, so no-one would ever want to leave!  The people who are at greatest risk of becoming victims of Sharia Law in the UK are “Muslims” who are coerced, in this case by “well-meaning” multicultural social workers, into having Sharia Law applied to them, even though the outcomes of that Law are contrary to the interests of the person.

This contrasts sharply with the way things are done in the West.  Let’s read what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has to say about changing religion:

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.


I agree completely with this.  People, even young people such as this girl, should be at complete liberty as to which religion (or no religion) they chose to follow.  It is important to note that the State (in this case the social workers) should be blind to the religion (or no religion) that is chosen.

Other members of the community are free to hate, ignore, exclude the girl because of her decision.  If they believe that apostasy is a wicked act, they should be free to be complete shits about it.  That’s the thing about freedom.

Were the actions of the social workers in the best interest of the child?

This is another important issue.  Social workers must do what is in the best interests of the child.  From reading the reports, it is clear that the girl made an informed decision, and held to it over a long period of time.  This shows maturity and intelligence.  From my reading of the newspaper articles, I’m not sure that the social workers took this fully into account, but gave undue weight to the “community norms” of a community the girl did not want to be a part of.  The doctrine of Multiculturalism meant that the girl’s membership of a certain religio-ethnic community was considered more important than the girl’s expressed preferences.  If this reading is correct, it is highly unfortunate.

It is also highly regrettable that the foster carer has lost her job over this.  Her own account is that she is a dedicated and otherwise excellent foster carer who works diligently to help the young people in her care.  I hope that she will be able to return to work very soon.

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