THE BAHÁ'ÍS OF DERRY
SCREENING OF EQUALITY POLICIES BY PUBLIC BODIES
STATEMENT TO THE GUARDIAN AD LITEM AGENCY
This comment to the Guardian ad Litem Agency is made by the Spiritual Assembly as the elected administrative body for the followers of the Bahá'í Faith in Londonderry district.
We welcome the consultation process undertaken by the agency and recognise the importance of its work. We have one specific concern that is based not on our own experience in Northern Ireland but on that occasionally reported by Bahá'í parents and local communities in Britain.
As a minority and a non- Christian religion, albeit one that is recognised in official government documents as “one of the world’s major religious traditions” (Marking the Millennium in a Multi-Faith Context), it has sometimes been the experience of Bahá'ís that they are seen by official bodies as non-mainstream and in some ways suspect. While such a view is based on ignorance and is usually easily overcome by an examination of the facts, it can cause distress to members of our faith.
The children of Bahá'ís parents who have come into the care of statutory bodies have not always had the religious identity respected, and have found themselves cut off from a full participation in the life of their religious community in favour of attempts to involve them more in “mainstream” i.e. Church activity. This has happened despite the fact that Bahá'ís do not reject participation in society, do not seek to isolate their children from it, and are commanded by the Scriptures of their faith to “consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship”. Bahá'í communities have been called upon to establish their bona fides, in effect to prove that they are not cultists, to officials who seem inclined to assume the worst.
As we say, we have no direct experience of this in Northern Ireland, but given the tendency here to see religious matters purely in terms of Protestants and Catholics, and a level of ignorance about other faiths which still remains higher than it should, we feel obliged to enter a plea for officials to have access to full and accurate information about the various religions established in the province and the necessary understanding that will allow respect for all.
February 2001 CE