Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship are being ignored by UK laws, a group of leading bishops has said.
The “apparent discrimination” against Christians is deeply concerning and the major political parties need to address the issue, seven bishops, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, have said.
In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph the group of leading Church of England bishops also expressed concern at the numerous cases of Christians being pushed out of their jobs.
They drew particular attention to Shirley Chaplin, a Christian NHS nurse who was told she could not wear a cross on hospital wards.
Mrs Chaplin is today taking Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust to an employment tribunal to contest the decision.
The bishops wrote: “This is yet another case in which the religious rights of the Christian community are being treated with disrespect.”
They continued: “We are deeply concerned at the apparent discrimination shown against Christians and we call on the Government to remedy this serious development.
“In a number of cases, Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship are simply not being upheld.
“There have been numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.
“We believe that the major parties need to address this issue in the coming general election.”
Lord Carey signed the letter with Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester and the bishops of Chester, Hereford, Blackburn and Litchfield: Rt Revd Peter Forster, Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, Rt Revd Nicholas Reade and Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill.
Recently a number of UK Christians have suffered for standing up for their faith.
Christian registrar Lillian Ladele was disciplined by Islington Council because of her stance on same-sex civil partnerships.
Caroline Petrie, a Christian nurse who offered to pray for a patient, was suspended without pay while managers investigated. She was subsequently re-instated.
And mum Jennie Cain was disciplined for sending a prayer email. Lawyers representing Mrs Cain have lodged papers claiming that she has suffered religious discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
SIR – On March 29, a Christian nurse, Shirley Chaplin, will take the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust to the Exeter Employment Tribunal.
This dedicated nurse, who has cared for thousands of patients over 30 years, was told by the trust to remove from her neck a cross she first wore at her confirmation service over 40 years ago.
She has worn the cross every day since her confirmation as a sign of her Christian faith, a faith which led to her vocation in nursing, and which has sustained her in that vital work ever since.
Mrs Chaplin refused to remove her cross and, as a result, was prevented from working in a patient-facing role.
It would seem that the NHS trust would rather lose the skills of an experienced nurse and divert scarce resources to fighting a legal case, instead of treating patients.
The uniform policy of the NHS trust permits exemptions for religious clothing. This has been exercised with regard to other faiths, but not with regard to the wearing of a cross around the neck.
Furthermore, Mrs Chaplin has been informed that the Court requires evidence of the fact that Christians wear crosses visibly around the neck. It cannot be right that judges are unaware of such a basic practice.
This is yet another case in which the religious rights of the Christian community are being treated with disrespect.
We are deeply concerned at the apparent discrimination shown against Christians and we call on the Government to remedy this serious development.
In a number of cases, Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship are simply not being upheld.
There have been numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.
We believe that the major parties need to address this issue in the coming general election.
The cross is ubiquitous in Christian devotion from the earliest times and clearly the most easily recognisable Christian symbol.
For many Christians, wearing a cross is an important expression of their Christian faith and they would feel bereft if, for some unjustifiable reason, they were not allowed to wear it.
To be asked by an employer to remove or “hide” the cross, is asking the Christian to hide their faith.
Any policy that regards the cross as “just an item of jewellery” is deeply disturbing and it is distressing that this view can ever be taken.
Most Rev Lord Carey of CliftonFormer Archbishop of CanterburyRt Rev Michael Scott-JoyntBishop of WinchesterRt Rev Michael Nazir-AliFormer Bishop of RochesterRt Rev Peter ForsterBishop of ChesterRt Rev Anthony PriddisBishop of HerefordRt Revd Nicholas ReadeBishop of Blackburn