How will these resources help you?

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: ‘everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ and should be allowed to practise their religion publicly or privately. In the UK, it is legal to express a belief as long as it does not incite violence or express hatred for other groups. These resources offer case studies and religious teachings that are useful for exploring the conflict that can occur when the expression of a religious belief is deemed harmful or damaging to the society in which the believers live. These discussions will encourage students to consider where the line for ‘freedom of speech’ should be drawn. 

A critique of religious freedom as an inherent ‘good’

Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion

by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, published by Princeton University Press, (2017), 9780691176222

While this book focuses mainly on foreign policy, the issues raised around promoting religious freedom as an intrinsic ‘good’ are helpful for an educator to delve into what is really meant by freedom of religion and how this has been interpreted globally. Shakman Hurd uses many case studies to illustrate how the very concept of ‘religion’ is unstable and how, therefore, it cannot be offered the same blanket protections. She uses the term ‘lived religion’ to illustrate how religion is intertwined with politics, history and culture. Therefore, offering complete ‘religious freedom’ is problematic because it permits expressing something far more complicated than a simple theological belief. This would likely be a difficult book to use with KS3 and KS4 classes, but useful for an educator to explore the concept of worldviews and to guide a class into a debate around what ‘religious freedom’ means. 

Religious expression as an expression of hatred


by Megan Phelps-Roper, published by Quercus Publishing, (2020), 9781787478015

Phelps-Roper is the granddaughter of the infamous Fred Phelps, founder and former pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, Kansas. The group has experienced notoriety over the years for their pickets at the funerals of US soldiers, claiming that a society which allows same-sex relationships is one being punished by God. This book does an excellent job of humanising the Church’s members as Megan details her upbringing and eventual disillusionment with the message. She gives the example of ‘Gramps’ telling her to welcome the hatred of counter-protesters by quoting Jesus: ‘If the world hates you, know that it hated me because it hated you.’ She also explains how the law in the US has, at times, protected the Church’s right to free speech despite the emotional distress caused by the message and choice of language. 

Islam in Britain – to what extent should religious expression reflect society?

Among the Mosques: A Journey Across Muslim Britain

by Ed Husain, published by Bloomsbury Publishing, (2022), 9781526618672

Ed Husain is an author, academic and former Islamist. In this book, he travels the length of Britain and visits many different mosques, immersing himself in prayers and conversations with various Muslim communities. He finds himself concerned at times by the ideologies being promoted in several of the mosques he visits and expresses a desire to educate young Muslims today about how to hold an identity as both Muslim and Westerner. Particularly relevant parts of this book (which would be interesting to debate with older classes) involve Husain’s interest in how clothing and appearance can be seen as a way of expressing religion and separating oneself from the rest of the society – Husain himself explains that he is beardless as a way of distancing himself from the ideologies he used to subscribe to.

Further materials

World Watch List 2023, published by Open Doors UK and Ireland, (2023) Access this resource
Putting religious freedom back on the map by Allen Hertzke, published by TEDx Talks, (2015) Watch this video
How the Catholic Church censored the Golden Age of Hollywood by Dean Peterson, published by Vox, (2018) Read this article
41 countries ban religion-related groups; Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is among the most commonly targeted by Samirah Majumdar, published by Pew Research Center, (2021) Read this article
Lucy Kentish is Head of Religious Studies and a South Coast Adviser for a MAT. She is part of a national leadership scheme for RE, has developed curriculums and resources for various schools and also works as an examiner for Eduqas.

Text © Lucy Kentish, 2023.