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27 February 2012

Reforms needed to protect the rights of Christians, say MPs

Reforms needed to protect the rights of Christians, say MPs

A group of Christian MPs and Peers has called for changes in the law to ensure that the freedoms of believers in the UK are not eroded.

The Clearing the Ground inquiry - the findings of which were published today (Monday) - cited fundamental problems with the 2010 Equality Act and failures of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Carried out by Christians in Parliament and facilitated by the Evangelical Alliance, the cross-party committee's report said that recent legislation had been responsible for generating, rather than reducing, social tensions.

They called for changes in the law, more public education about religion in government, better guidance for local authorities and a review of the EHRC.

The inquiry took evidence from more than 50, mostly Christian, organisations whose evidence showed that - while Christians are certainly not being persecuted in the UK - there is a real problem they are facing in exercising their faith in public life.

Religious illiteracy throughout government and society was also seen as a key issue that needs to be rectified.

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."

The report follows a number of high profile court cases featuring Christians in employment and public life, including the banning of prayers at Bideford Town Council earlier this month.

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, commented: "There is a problem with how our society understands and handles religious belief today. We need reforms to ensure that we have full space to live with integrity to our beliefs in all of our lives.

clearingtheground_panel"Christianity is good news for our society. This report provides some excellent suggestions for how the law and culture can better reflect the immense role that the Christian faith plays in public life in the UK."

Last week, Cabinet minister Baroness Warsi warned that the country was under threat from "militant secularisation".

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."

Fiona Bruce MP added: "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."

Read the Clearing the Ground report here.