Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks says the attempt to impose an equality “template” on religious organisations is eroding religious liberty.
He warned that such moves mean Britain is in danger of returning to a time when people fled abroad to find greater freedom.
Lord Sacks’ comments were welcomed by a Christian religious liberty organisation but attacked by the head of a secularist group.
The Chief Rabbi was speaking to a House of Commons Select Committee alongside a representative from the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the head of the British Humanist Association.
Lord Sacks said he shared with the church leaders a “real concern that the attempt to impose the current prevailing template of equality and anti-discrimination on religious organisations is an erosion of religious liberty”.
The Chief Rabbi went on to raise concerns that the UK was “beginning to move back” to the time of the Mayflower when many left to “find religious liberty elsewhere”.
And Bernard Jenkin MP, who chairs the Committee, also warned that a “humanist absolutism” would be “tyrannical”.
Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern welcomed the Chief Rabbi’s comments.
She said: “There has been a significant curtailing of religious freedom in this nation, due to the ‘equalities’ culture and the imposition of political correctness on the public.”
She warned that this was “an inevitable consequence of secularism, which promises a utopia but pushes our society towards the beginnings of tyranny”, and added: “Secularism is not neutral and punishes dissenters”.
But Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society (NSS), said the equality laws that Lord Sacks “disparages are a wonderful achievement and something that most people – including many Jews – welcome as progressive, just and long overdue”.
Mr Sanderson added that the Chief Rabbi’s statement was “selfish, self-serving and politically motivated”.
Writing on the NSS’ website he also commented: “My message to Lord Sacks, Andrea Minichiello Williams, Lord Carey, the Christian Institute and all the other whingers is this: if you really think life in this country is intolerable and want to go somewhere else where your prejudices — sorry, religious freedom — can be expressed unfettered, let me quote the song from West Side Story: ‘I know a boat you can get on. Bye-bye.'”