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17 November 2011

Clearing the Ground inquiry starts in Parliament

Clearing the Ground inquiry starts in Parliament

MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum have begun to hear evidence on whether Christians are badly treated by the law and if they are being pushed out of society.

The Clearing the Ground inquiry, being run by Christians in Parliament and facilitated by the Alliance, is a chance for debate and discussion among Christian groups on whether Christians in the UK are being marginalised and unprotected by the law.

Clearing the Ground will hear from a range of organisations who will give evidence to a panel during November, citing examples of where they think the law or action of the courts and government have resulted in Christians being discriminated against.

More than 50 written submissions have already been made to the inquiry and on the first session evidence was heard from the Evangelical Alliance, Premier Christian Radio, the Lawyers Christian Fellowship and Maranatha Community. Care, the Church of England, the Catholic Church, and the Baptist/Methodist/URC churches gave evidence at the second session.

Gary Streeter MP, chair of the inquiry, said: "We want to do is expose the gap between perception and reality and help to blow away the fog and the fear that currently exists for many Christians. We want to dispel any myths that have grown up but also identify problems, and we're not going to shy away from calling for changes to the law if that is what is needed."

In September in his blog BBC journalist and reporter William Crawley, asked whether in light of so much persecution of the Church overseas, claims from groups like Christian Concern that Christians were also subject to the same in the UK were valid.

Recent incidences of Christians being discriminated against included one of a doctor facing disciplinary action as a result of him suggesting to a patient that they may benefit from the Christian faith. Christian Concern also carry numerous examples of what they say are similar cases.

Last week, the Guardian reported that Christian hoteliers who were asked to pay damages to the courts after they stopped a gay couple from sharing a room at their hotel were launching an appeal against their charges.

In October, Ann Widdecombe MP made a speech calling on the government to remember countries overseas where Christian communities are discriminated against. In the Daily Mail, the Reverend Peter Mullen cited cases in the UK of Christians being discriminated against.

The government had announced that it was withdrawing aid funds from those countries overseas who were against same-sex couples.

The Alliance's Krish Kandiah, executive director: churches in mission, recently did a 24-hour 'lock-in' in a makeshift cell and had a complete social media blackout to raise awareness of overseas persecution.

He said: "It was an honour to be involved in Open Doors' social media blackout - often the persecuted Church are out of sight and therefore out of mind - being quiet to make a big noise for the persecuted Church was the least I could do."

Gavin Shuker MP, who is also part of the Clearing the Ground Inquiry, said: "Too often it seems like we're living in a world that doesn't understand religion, but it needs to. Hopefully this inquiry will help everyone understand religion a little bit better."

Fiona Bruce MP said: "Christians across the country are becoming increasingly concerned about expressing biblically-based views, both within and outside the workplace. This inquiry is a welcome and much-needed endeavour on the part of parliamentarians to engage with, listen to, and understand those concerns, and their breadth and impact, and to promote appropriate action to address them."