The legal system may have gone “too far” in restricting the right of Christians to live out their faith, Britain’s former top judge has cautioned.
Lord Woolf’s comments came after the Bishop of Winchester warned that the demise of “religious literacy” had created an imbalance in the way Christians are treated by the courts.
And Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has urged the Prime Minister to review legislation which has been used to penalise Christians.
Speaking on the BBC’s World This Weekend show Lord Woolf acknowledged that the Bishop of Winchester’s concerns had “a grounding in the facts”.
He added: “We may have gone too far. If the law has gone too far in one direction, then the experience of the law is that it tends to move back.
“The law must be above any sectional interest even if it is an interest of a faith but at the same time it must be aware of the proper concerns of that faith.
“The law should be developed in ways that, wherever practicable, it allows that faith to be preserved and protected.”
The Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, had warned that a failure to support the beliefs of Christians could lead to them being excluded from certain professions.
He said: “The problem is that there is a really quite widespread perception among Christians that there is growing up something of an imbalance in the legal position with regard to the freedom of Christians and people of other faiths to pursue the calling of their faith in public life, in public service.
He added: “Anybody who is part of the religious community believes that you don’t just hold views, you live them. Manifesting your faith is part of having it and not part of some optional bolt-on.
“Judgement seemed to be following contemporary society, which seems to think that secularist views are statements of the obvious and religious views are notions in the mind. That is the culture in which we are living.”
These concerns are echoed by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who has written to David Cameron urging him to reconsider laws that have penalised Christians for abiding by their faith.
He said: “Notwithstanding its vast and varied contribution to our society, there appears to be a suspicion about the validity and value of the role that the Christian faith plays in our national life”.
He added: “It is a remarkable state of affairs that, in such a short space of time and in a country that has been so shaped by, and benefitted so significantly from, a Christian foundation, those who hold traditional Christian viewpoints, in common with millions across the globe and across history, can suddenly find their position labelled discriminatory and prejudiced and then discover that it has effectively become a legal bar to public service.”
Last month Lord Carey warned against attempts to “stealthily and subtly” brush aside the Christian faith in the UK.
Lord Carey was writing in a leaflet promoting a “Not Ashamed” campaign which encourages Christians to express their beliefs in public and at work. The campaign is organised by the religious liberty group, Christian Concern.
The former Archbishop cautioned that even though Christianity has contributed much to the civilisation of the UK, a new climate “hostile” to that tradition is now developing.
He said examples of the sidelining of Christianity have been mounting in recent years: “Teachers and council employees are suspended for offering to ‘say a prayer’.
“A devoted nurse is banned from wearing a cross, a British Airways worker told to remove hers”, he said.
He also noted the plight of Roman Catholic adoption agencies, most of which have closed or have been forced to drop their religious ethos as a result of equality regulations.