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14 February 2012

Christianity: Good for society but squeezed out of public life?

Christianity: Good for society but squeezed out of public life?

Christians in the UK are not being persecuted, but religion is increasingly being squeezed out of public life, the Evangelical Alliance has said following high profile stories relating to belief and society, and ahead of a parliamentary report being published this month.

The Clearing the Ground report by Christians in Parliament and the Evangelical Alliance will be launched in parliament on 27 February and follows claims from Cabinet minister Baroness Warsi today (14 February) that the country is under threat from "militant secularisation".

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the Muslim peer said that religion is being "sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere" and urged Europe to become "more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity".

She writes: "To create a more just society, people need to feel stronger in their religious identities and more confident in their creeds… In practice, this means individuals not diluting their faiths and nations not denying their religious heritages."

Her critique came on the same day as a poll carried out by Ipsos Mori for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) revealed that 74 per cent who self-identified as Christian agreed that religion should not have 'special' influence on public policy. Just 12 per cent thought it should.

Around 79 per cent of the respondents said government should not interfere in religion. However, just 28 per cent of the self-identifying Christians said they were Christians because of actually believing in the teachings of Christianity.

The Evangelical Alliance said the results of the Dawkins survey were unsurprising but misguided.

Greg Smith, the Alliance's research manager, said: "The Alliance welcomes the interest shown in Christianity by the Dawkins Foundation. The anxieties of the secularists show as never before there is a place for a healthy debate about faith and its relevance to the public sphere.

"There are very few findings which will surprise anyone with an awareness of the state of religion in the UK today. However, the fundamental weakness of the report is that it does not seem to understand the substance of Christian faith. There may indeed be between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of people who, when pushed into answering a Census question, will accept the label 'Christian'. While it can be seen as encouraging for the Church that so many still aspire to be considered Christian, maybe two thirds of this group are merely nominal."

The news comes on the back of a number of high profile cases of Christians losing out in the courts.

Last Friday (10 February), a high court ruling said Bideford Town Council in Devon had no statutory powers to hold prayers before council meetings as it had been doing for years. Meanwhile, earlier this month, Healing on the Streets in Bath were banned from claiming God can heal following complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority.

The Clearing the Ground report will show that there is an increasing assumption that religious belief should be a private activity - as demonstrated by the Dawkins poll and the court rulings.

However, research published by the Evangelical Alliance as part of its 21st Century Evangelicals series reveals that Christians are good for society as a whole.

Dave Landrum, directory of advocacy, said: "Baroness Warsi's statements are a welcome contribution to the public debate, while the Dawkins research smacks of the desperation of a diminishing elite. Our own research shows that evangelicals emerge as people who are more likely to be in sound and happy marriages, supported by a caring church community, well-engaged in politics and campaigning on a surprising range of issues from civil liberties to human trafficking, from fair trade to homelessness.

"Even more significantly, they and their churches are involved in practical, caring activities in local communities. These help to build a healthy and happy civil society for all. In comparison, the atheist contribution to communities seems notable by its absence."

Read the Evangelical Alliance's latest research - How's the family?