28 February 2012
Clearing the Ground inquiry
A new report by a cross-party committee of Christian MPs and Peers about the erosion of freedoms for Christians points to recent legislation as being responsible for generating, rather than reducing, social tensions.
The report cites fundamental problems with the 2010 Equality Act, and failures of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to adequately represent or protect religion, while privileging the rights of other groups.
The report was produced by a committee of inquiry drawn together by Christians in Parliament, and it took evidence from more than 50, mostly Christian, organisations. The evidence confirmed that there is a real problem for Christians in the UK, but that it cannot be described as persecution. It identified that there is widespread religious illiteracy through government and society, which is reflected in increased assumption that religious belief should be a private activity. The evidence overwhelmingly suggested that Christianity is being squeezed out of public life.
The report calls for changes in the law; more public education about religion in government, better guidance for local authorities and a re-structuring of the EHRC.
Comment on the report from members of Christians in Parliament
Gary Streeter MP, chair of the committee, said: “Of course Christians should obey the law, but the law should reflect the positive contribution the Christian faith has made to the heritage of this country and also respect the sincerely held beliefs of mainstream Christians. Our report indicates how this delicate circle can be better squared."
Gavin Shuker MP said: “I hope that the report will encourage the government to recognise that there is an urgent need for clearer guidance for statutory bodies and employers about what religion is, how it should be treated and how it makes a huge and vital contribution to our society. Nobody wants to see a society heading down the tram lines of an American style culture war. In order to make the courtroom the very last option, we all need to work harder at finding solutions when the rights of different groups are in tension.”
Lord Edmiston of Lapworth said: “Christians today and through the centuries have made tremendous contributions to our national life. I hope this report will provide a basis for limiting the areas which bring faith and the law into conflict, and provide encouragement for Christians to strive, without fear of prosecution, for greater engagement with the needs of their local communities.”
Jim Dobbin MP said: “Difficulties that have come to our attention - where equality legislation is concerned - relate to the way in which legislation is implemented. There is nothing in the Equality Act that supports us in dealing with differences; rather, it promotes a tendency to respond to inequality through creating sameness.”
Fiona Bruce MP said: “For the first time we have a thorough report articulating the real concerns of Christians across our nation who feel that their freedoms to live out and speak freely about their beliefs are increasingly restricted - action must follow.”
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Notes to Editors
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