2021: A Year in Review

Every year presents its own challenges, and 2021 has been no different.

At The Christian Institute, as well as the campaign work and legal cases, we strive to keep you up to date with various issues affecting Christians in the UK. This happens directly through hundreds of supporter meetings but also through our website and social media channels.


The issues that made the headlines in 2021

Here is our round-up of some of the issues which hit the headlines over the last twelve months.

Conversion Therapy

In May, the Government used the Queen’s Speech to announce a consultation on banning so-called conversion therapy in England and Wales. The Christian Institute warned the Government it would judicially review any ban that restricts prayer, preaching, pastoral work and parenting. The pledge followed detailed legal advice from top human rights lawyer Jason Coppel QC.

We then wrote to Boris Johnson the following month, after prominent LGBT activist Jayne Ozanne called for ‘gentle, non-coercive’ prayer to be outlawed under the proposed new law. Ozanne had rebuked fellow pro-ban campaigner Bishop David Walker for offering a concession on such forms of prayer, claiming that they are “deeply damaging” and cause “immeasurable harm”. Our letter to the Prime Minister again pointed out that such a move would violate the human rights of believers.

Because of this risk, we launched a new campaign at the end of October to protect the ordinary work of churches from a ban. The Let Us Pray campaign reiterated that a ban on prayer, preaching and pastoral advice – as campaigned for by some LGBT activists – would be in breach of human rights law.

A few weeks later, Institute Deputy Director for Public Affairs Simon Calvert appeared before the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee to outline the fears shared by many evangelical Christians about the proposals. He told MPs that the Government risked bringing in “one of the most religiously repressive laws” the country has ever seen and that it would be difficult to devise a ban that “does not get used to undermine the ordinary work of churches”.

His sentiments were echoed by more than 2,700 church leaders, who wrote to the Minister for Women and Equalities in December to express their grave concerns. They warned Liz Truss that the ban set out in the consultation could make it illegal for Christian ministers to persuade, teach and help people of every age to become Christians, and live out their faith in accordance with the Bible.

Legal Defence Fund

December marked 15 years since the launch of The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund, which has helped thousands of Christians who have been discriminated against because of their faith.

This year, we have once again been able to help more than 300 people, including pastor and street preacher David McConnell, who in April received damages from West Yorkshire Police after he was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. He was arrested for an alleged hate-related public order offence after he answered questions from passers-by about homosexuality and abortion, but after six hours in police custody he was released without charge.

In Scotland, an employment tribunal ruled that the nation’s biggest grant-making trust unlawfully discriminated against its CEO because of his Christian views on marriage. The tribunal said Kenneth Ferguson was unfairly dismissed by The Robertson Trust, and that it and chairwoman Shonaig Macpherson had discriminated against him.

And the year closed with the excellent news that the Trust also backed down in a separate legal case, formally apologising to two Christian groups for discriminating against them for upholding traditional marriage. It settled claims with Stirling Free Church and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association after it cancelled bookings because they were for religious events. The Trust admitted it had acted unlawfully, apologised to both organisations and has paid a substantial contribution towards legal costs.

Public worship

In January, the UK Government confirmed churches in England could remain open, after some had been asked by local councils to stop holding services.

But in mainland Scotland churches were legally required to close, although 200 church leaders wrote to Nicola Sturgeon, urging her to reverse the decision and accept that Christian worship is an “essential public service”.

In March, the ban was declared unlawful by Court of Session judge Lord Braid, who ruled that listening to prayer, preaching and teaching from home was not a suitable substitute for collective worship. The ban was subsequently lifted and churches were not included in the new restrictions brought in this week.

Abortion

Northern Ireland became the new vanguard of the campaign against abortion this year.

In February, a Bill was tabled in Stormont to end the abortion of unborn children on the grounds of disability. The current law’s wording can be used to justify aborting children with Down’s syndrome, club foot or cleft palate.

The Bill was tabled by Paul Givan MLA, before he was named First Minister in June, and got through to Consideration Stage before sadly being defeated by 45 votes to 42.

The Assembly has also been under attack from pro-abortion MPs in Westminster. Far from satisfied that Northern Ireland now has one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world – they are keen to see even more abortions taking place across the Province.

At present, individual hospital trusts are responsible for provisions, but there is no central, nationalised scheme. As a result, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was given new powers to override the Assembly and force the NI Department of Health to commission more services. Westminster was accused of a ‘power grab’ over the move, with many MPs saying it threatened the devolution settlement.

In England, disability campaigner Heidi Crowter, who has Down’s syndrome, challenged the law on abortion in the High Court in July. Abortion is available up to birth for unborn children deemed to have a disability, while for the rest of the unborn population it is capped at 24 weeks. Heidi argued this is discrimination against the disabled, but in September the High Court rejected the challenge, saying it was a matter for Parliament. Heidi and her fellow campaigner Máire Lea-Wilson are seeking to appeal.

In October, Oxford University gave its backing to a student pro-life group which was targeted by abortion activists at its Freshers’ fair. Activists binned Oxford Students for Life’s materials and tore down its stand, but the University condemned the attack and said it supports the pro-life group’s right to express its lawful views. The non-religious group told The Christian Institute that the confrontation had been “thoroughly unpleasant” but the group would “not back down”.

Marriage

In June, the governing body of the Methodist church voted to redefine marriage by 254 votes to 46, and also voted to allow Methodist ministers to conduct same-sex weddings. In response to recommendations made in the controversial 2019 report ‘God in love unites us’, members also agreed to endorse informal cohabitation – equating it to marriage.

In September, the Church in Wales voted to allow same-sex marriages to be blessed in its churches, prompting the Evangelical Fellowship in the Church in Wales (EFCW) to reject the change as undermining the “standard of Christian marriage”. In late November, the EFCW met with the Bench of Bishops and was disappointed when the bishops said they were “of one mind” to introduce a same-sex marriage Bill into the Church in Wales’ constitution, and added that this could be within the next five years.

The EFCW said they received very “little assurance or guarantee” from the Bench that biblical views on marriage would be allowed to thrive within the Church, and branded the push to introduce same-sex marriage as “contrary to God’s revelation”. However, the Fellowship did say it had been given “complete assurance” that a conscience clause, enabling those who remain faithful to Scripture to opt out of performing the blessings, would remain in place.

Education

Following complaints, the BBC finally removed a resource for children which claimed there were over 100 ‘gender identities’ from its BBC Teach website in January. The Institute had first criticised the resources back in September 2019.

In April, the then Schools Minister Nick Gibb reiterated that all schools must have an act of collective worship every day. He said if the Department for Education was made aware of a school in breach of its duty to do this, it would be investigated.

The National Secular Society called for the law requiring this to be repealed, but the request was rebuffed by the Government in August. Education Minister Baroness Berridge said collective worship in schools was here to stay and that it was “not permissible” for schools to request they be replaced by a non-religious equivalent.

In December the Senedd in Wales approved a ‘Relationships and Sexuality Education Code’ after just 30 minutes of debate. The new Code avoids terms such as “male” and “female”, and only mentions “women” in reference to previous legislation. But it contains mandatory teaching for children aged three to 16 years old and parents have no right of withdrawal.

Transgender ideology

Scottish Government plans to make it much easier for people to change legal sex gained momentum in August following a new power-sharing deal between the SNP and the Greens. The proposals intend to remove the need for any medical evidence of gender dysphoria, reduce the current two-year period to three months and extend sex swaps to 16-year-olds.

In December 2020, the High Court in England ruled in favour of ‘detransitioner’ Keira Bell in her case against the NHS. She says it not be allowed to give puberty-blocking hormones to children, arguing they cannot understand the issues at stake sufficiently in order to provide proper informed consent. At the time, the High Court judges agreed, saying it was “highly unlikely” children 13 and under could ever genuinely consent to hormone blockers, and “very doubtful” 14 and 15-year-olds could do so.

But the NHS appealed this decision, and in September this year the Court of Appeal overturned the original ruling, saying the High Court “was not in a position to generalise about the capability of persons of different ages to understand what is necessary for them to be competent to consent to the administration of puberty blockers”. Bell said she was disappointed at the ruling, and indicated she will seek to take her case to the Supreme Court.

In November, the BBC announced it is withdrawing from Stonewall’s controversial Diversity Champions programme, following questions over impartiality. The LGBT lobby group has been increasingly under fire over the scheme, which rewards employers for promoting radical gender ideology in the workplace. Swathes of high-profile institutions, organisations and Government departments have left the programme over the course of the year.

BBC Director General Tim Davie said that, while he did not believe the link to the lobby group had affected the Corporation’s journalism, cutting ties was “the correct move” to “minimise the risk of perceived bias”.

Assisted suicide

In September the British Medical Association narrowly voted to drop its support for end-of-life protections in the UK. At its annual meeting, delegates backed a motion to adopt a ‘neutral’ stance on assisted suicide by 149 votes to 145.

But the following month, the Prime Minister said he would not support weaker laws on assisted suicide which would remove end-of-life protections for vulnerable people. He reportedly came to the decision after reading detailed arguments over the summer, ahead of Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill being read in the House of Lords.

In June, Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur launched a similar attempt to introduce assisted suicide in Scotland. A public consultation ran from 18 September to 22 December and a Bill is expected next year.

Hate Crime

The Scottish Government’s Hate Crime Bill took up a lot of time and energy for the Institute in 2020, and it came to a head in February 2021.

The then Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf had promised a free speech amendment to help to protect people who uphold the biological understanding of sex from facing criminal investigation. But the Scottish Government angered campaigners when it backtracked on the amendment to the controversial Bill, following pressure from trans activists who complained that protecting free speech was to ‘legislate for transphobia’.

Yousaf said that the Government would instead draft a broad freedom of expression clause which he claimed it would cover all characteristics, so that no group feels targeted. Thanks to widepsread public pressure, the final version of the Bill was a significant watering down of the original, but concerns remain about the lack of a dwelling defence for “dining table conversations”.

Smacking

The UK is divided, legislatively speaking, on the issue of smacking. Scotland’s smacking ban came into force in November 2020, while Wales’ is set to begin in March. The fact that the overwhelming majority of adults do not think parents should be criminalised for lovingly disciplining their children did little to sway the views of the majority of politicians in these devolved parliaments.

England, however, has resisted the temptation to ban mild physical chastisment, despite an attempt being made to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to include a smacking ban. Peers in the House of Lords spoke against it, and Government spokesman Lord Parkinson confirmed it would not back the amendment.

In Memoriam

In 2021, two dear friends of the Institute passed into glory.

In April, our Patron Baroness O’Cathain died after a short illness, aged 83. Lady O’Cathain, who insisted on being called Detta, was an economist and businesswoman who entered the House of Lords in 1991.

During her time in politics, she stressed the importance of Christians engaging in the public sphere to influence the world around them in a positive way.

And in November, Revd Melvin Tinker, also went to be with the Lord. Melvin was senior minister at St John’s Church Newland in Hull for 26 years before leaving the Church of England last year to plant Christ Church Newland – a church which continues to flourish.

The Year Ahead

Thank you for standing with us through another challenging year. Your prayers and support are invaluable. We give thanks to God and trust him to provide for us, and for you, in 2022.

From everyone at The Christian Institute, we hope you have a blessed new year.