Britain’s equality agenda is marginalising Christians, two leading Church of England figures have warned.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, expressed concern at attempts to “remove religion from public life”, during a lecture in Newcastle.
And the Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, also criticised the equality agenda in the UK in an article on the Guardian website.
Dr Sentamu said that in modern Britain the concept of “tolerance” has become “a negative virtue – a means of diminishment and marginalisation”.
Dr Sentamu gave the particular example of the Equality Bill which could have made it “very difficult” for religious organisations to employ only those who live lives consistent with the beliefs of the organisation.
He said: “This is symptomatic of a trend which has intensified in Britain over the past fifty years in the name of tolerance. That is, an attempt to remove religion from public life.”
Dr Sentamu went on to say that secular critics “would prefer we didn’t talk about ‘church’ schools and instead talked about ‘faith’ schools where all faiths could be conveniently blended together and kept in a safe place – a process of ghetto-ization at work in a ferocious and insidious way”.
A solution to this problem is the concept of “gracious magnanimity”, which the Archbishop said “could help us to transform our country today”.
The Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt said an understanding of how to live alongside people of differing views was important in the debate about equality and diversity.
Commenting on the Equality Bill he wrote: “Those who believe that the churches and faiths are wrong on various matters of sexual ethics, or in having an all male priesthood or requirements concerning marriage and divorce, want to use the law to compel us to act differently.”
He called this “an extraordinarily illiberal stance”.
And he went on to ask “how can it be right to argue that those who are employed to promote the aims and values of a community need not share – and live their lives consistently with – those aims and values”?
The Bishop continued: “What I believe and how I act are integrally linked – and that is true of everyone, not just of religious believers.”
He pointed to other spheres of public life, such as media organisations and political parties, where employers do not have to appoint people who have differing beliefs.
On Monday 25 January the House of Lords defeated the Government over its attempt in the Equality Bill to narrow the law on who churches and other faith-based groups can employ.
Peers voted 216 to 178 in favour of Lady O’Cathain’s amendment to keep the current law unchanged.
Both the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Winchester spoke in the debate and voted with Lady O’Cathain in favour of the amendments which preserved church freedoms.