Religion in public life discussed with Scotland's leader

September 18, 2015

EDINBURGH, Scotland — The recently-elected First Minister of Scotland has met with representatives of religious communities to discuss the role of faith in public life, the importance of interfaith dialogue, and the support offered by religious communities to the humanitarian crisis in southern Europe.

"Interfaith work and the contribution of faith groups is essential in transforming lives and building a stronger, fairer and equal Scotland," First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told an Interfaith Summit, held on 8 September.

In her remarks, the Director of Interfaith Scotland Maureen Sier—who is a Baha'i—observed that "there are increasing opportunities for interfaith dialogue and engagement because there is a critical and growing need and this is being recognised both in public and private discourse".

Dr. Sier, who worked with the Equality Unit of the Scottish Government to organise the Summit, called for further investment in interfaith education for young people.

"Young people need to catch the vision, be inspired by the possibilities and see the hope in the connections and friendships," Dr. Sier said.

"People are hungry for a different story about religion and the story of interfaith engagement is a powerful and hopeful narrative," added Dr. Sier. "It is a counter-narrative to bigotry, sectarianism and extremism; the challenge for interfaith organisations is to tell the story ever more powerfully and to somehow get the media to listen."

Scotland is highly regarded in Europe as taking the lead in promoting mutual understanding of the teachings, traditions and practices of different faith communities.

Jeremy Fox, the Baha'i representative, said in his remarks, "I would like to suggest that Scotland is in many respects a leader in this domain and that it should not hesitate to make this practice known in other countries."

Mr. Fox expressed the Scottish Baha'i community's appreciation of the recognition that Ms. Sturgeon and her government give to the positive contribution that Faith communities can make to society.

He shared a statement by Baha'u'llah which, he told the First Minister "relates to what we believe you and your government are attempting to do, but also relates to all of us gathered round this table."

The statement of Baha'u'llah reads, "Our hope is that the world's religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely-afflicted world the remedy it requireth."

The summit was held in the Cabinet Office of Bute House, the First Minister's residence in Edinburgh. The building is two houses along from 7 Charlotte Square, where 'Abdu'l-Baha stayed during his sojourn in the city in January 1913.

Attendees represented a wide range of religious communities—including Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh—as well as national and local interfaith organisations.