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23 February 2012

Clearing the Ground

Clearing the Ground

A committee of MPs and Peers will meet in November to consider the situation facing Christians in the UK. Chaired by Gary Streeter, MP for Devon South-West, the Clearing the Ground committee of inquiry will include members from both houses, different parties and a range of Christian traditions.  

The inquiry aims to clarify the situation Christians face as they engage with public life. It will consider whether there are legal obstacles that get in the way, and whether changes in the law might be necessary. When the Evangelical Alliance conducted a survey of 17,000 Christians in 2010 it found that over three quarters of Christians felt that it is 'getting difficult to live as a Christian in an increasingly secular country', while eight out of 10 considered that 'the UK is a Christian country' and this should be reflected in its laws.  

The UK has a strong history of religious freedom, but in recent years there have been indications that this may be being eroded. Even if it is not being significantly constrained at present, it is subject to confusion as to the practical consequences of current laws and their relationships to how it is worked out through guidance, decision making and funding priorities.  

Accompanying changes to the law have been a series of high profile and controversial court cases which have seemingly been presented by the media as showing that Christians face particular pressure. The media coverage of these cases, along with the rise of both Christian and explicitly secular campaign groups manning their respective barricades, has exasperated the lack of clarity and left Christians unsure of their freedom to live out their faith in public life. This confusion has also contributed to a loss of confidence in the way that Christians can contribute to the civic institutions that play such a major role in our lives. 

It is into this context that the inquiry intends to bring clarity about the current situation and challenges, about any changes that might need to be made, and to encourage confidence in the Church's public witness.  

Mr Streeter, who is also chair of Christians in Parliament, commented: "There has never been a more significant time for Christians to make a positive contribution to our society, but if we are to do that it is important to clear the ground of the confusion that sometimes appears to hinder our capacity to live and speak freely. This cross-party enquiry from both the Commons and the Lords attempts to do just that. " 

Christian organisations that work on public policy and legal issues are currently submitting evidence of the challenges that Christians in the UK face, and what could be done about them. Many of these organisations will be asked to give further evidence to the inquiry. To assist in the inquiry, the Evangelical Alliance is providing support to Christians in Parliament throughout this process.  

As a result of this inquiry a report will be produced with the aim of shedding light on this difficult situation, as well as making recommendations for where the law might need altering or the government need to take action. The report will also serve as a significant resource for parliamentarians, civil servants, those working for local authorities as well as for churches and Christian organisations. As a snapshot capturing the current status of relationships between church communities, campaign groups and politicians, it will provide a basis for continued work and improved relationships in the future.