Equality Bill could increase squeeze on UK Christians

Tue, 5 Jan 2010

The upcoming Equality Bill could add to the pressure on Christians’ religious liberty, according to an English Bishop.

The Rt Revd Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who was until September the Bishop of Rochester, says the new Equality Bill must not force Christians to act against their consciences.

Dr Nazir-Ali highlighted particular cases of Christians who have been marganisalised for their faith in an article for a national newspaper.

He wrote: “Nurses have been told not to pray with their patients; registrars ordered to conduct civil partnership ceremonies in spite of conscientious objections; evangelists forbidden to spread the word in ‘Muslim’ areas; and permission for Good Friday processions refused on the grounds that they are a ‘minority’ interest and do not warrant police time.”

The cases he mentioned include Caroline Petrie, a Christian nurse who was punished for offering to pray for a patient, and Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar who was bullied at work and threatened with the sack because of her beliefs about civil partnerships.

The Bishop went on to say the Equality Bill must make room for Christian beliefs, if Christians and others “are not to be forced to say that they must obey God rather than Caesar”.

Dr Nazir-Ali says believers “cannot be compelled to act against their consciences, just as a religious organisation cannot be expected to act contrary to its ethos”.

In a wide ranging article for The Daily Telegraph touching on the economy and the war in Afghanistan, Dr Nazir-Ali said Britain is lacking a common “narrative”, a “story which underpins our national life”.

He went on: “In the past, this was provided by the Judaeo-Christian tradition, derived from the Bible.

“This narrative has been at the root of those values which we regard as particularly British, whether to do with the dignity of the human person, with fundamental freedoms of belief, speech and assembly, or with equality – which is not about ‘sameness’, but a recognition of the image of God in others.”

Dr Nazir-Ali added that good examples of British business and politics has been characterised by Biblical senses “of responsibility, of trust, justice, fairness and truth-telling”.

But, he continued: “In recent years, these virtues have been jettisoned, so that we can be more ‘competitive’ in a cut-throat world, or engage in a more adversarial form of politics.

“We, and the generations to follow, will have to live with the consequences of this dissolution of a moral and spiritual framework for our common life.”

He added that moral and spiritual education was necessary in schools and universities to teach future leaders that “the public have the right to expect selflessness rather than greed, service rather than arrogance, and even sacrifice for the greater good of the organisation, or the nation.”

Last month, a Government equalities minister admitted churches should be “lining up” lawyers to defend themselves against secular legal challenges under the Equality Bill.

Michael Foster MP, a minister in Harriet Harman’s Equalities Office, was asked whether the Bill would lead to legal action between churches and atheists.

He said both sides “need to be lining up (their lawyers) by now.”

He added: “The secularists should have the right to challenge the church and if the church’s argument is good enough – which I believe it is – then the church should win through.”

The Equality Bill will dramatically shrink the liberty of churches to insist their staff’s conduct is in accordance with the Bible’s teaching on sexual behaviour.