Ian Finlay, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints representative on the Oxford Council of Faiths:

It should have been the happiest of occasions, a family wedding. The happiness was shattered when masked gunmen opened fire and killed four members of one family. This happened a few days ago outside a Coptic Church in a Cairo suburb.

Two years ago, Shabaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, was murdered for openly opposing the death penalty for blasphemy. Bhatti was a Christian. Punjab provincial governor Salmaan Taseer was a Muslim.

Taseer was murdered by one of his bodyguards for supporting Bhatti’s stance in favour of reforming the blasphemy laws.

In Myanmar hundreds of homes of Muslims have been burned and over 200 Muslims killed in riots instigated by extremist Buddhist monks.

This list of the persecution of religious minorities and also of non-believers could go on and on. It has been estimated that, worldwide, an average of 11 people are killed each hour for their religious belief or non-belief.

In many cases this persecution is state sponsored or at least state condoned.

In a lecture at Christ Church on Tuesday evening, Lord Alton, the cross-bench peer, cited the 18th article of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights.

This states that ‘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.’ Lord Alton listed many cases in which aspects of this article have been breached in recent years. The examples listed at the start of this article are breaches of the more extreme kind. However, even in our own society attempting to ban young men from wearing beards at school or sacking a woman for wearing a cross could be seen as breaching the final clause of article 18.

I chose to move to Oxford.

One of my reasons for making the move was my knowledge of the rich diversity of faith traditions in this city and also the very public voice of atheism.

I am fortunate to serve on the Oxford Council of Faiths and to observe at first hand the way we support each other in our practices. I was particularly impressed with the common front put forward by the Oxford faith groups following the Bullfinch prosecutions and the murder of Lee Rigby.

Regrettably this making of common cause is not universal. Article 18 is frequently breached by governments across the globe including those supported by generous aid from the United Kingdom.

One way in which we can support religious minorities and those who wish to exercise their right to be atheists without fear of execution is to continue to show personal toleration of others while pressing our elected representatives to use their leverage to support the United Nations and our own government in embedding article 18 in practice as well as principle.