Parliamentary group: ‘Govt’s religious literacy is lacking’

The religious literacy of Government officials has been questioned after it emerged that the Christian faith of asylum seekers is being assessed on the basis of vague ‘Bible trivia’.

One Iranian asylum seeker told the BBC his application had been rejected after an interview in which he was asked what colour the cover of the Bible is, and didn’t know how to answer.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on International Freedom of Religion or Belief said officials have a “lack of understanding of religion and belief”.

Life and death decisions

Speaking to the BBC, the Iranian man said he thought the question was “very strange”: “I knew there were different colours. The one I had was red.

“They asked me questions I was not able to answer – for example, what are the Ten Commandments. I could not name them all from memory.”

Baroness Berridge, who led an inquiry for the APPG, said: “The problem with those questions is that if you are not genuine you can learn the answers, and if you are genuine, you may not know the answers.

“When the system did move on to ask about the lived reality of people’s faith, we then found that caseworkers, who are making decisions which can be life or death for people, were not properly supported and trained properly.”

Heart knowledge

Revd Mark Miller, whose congregation in Stockton-on-Tees includes Iranian converts, told The Independent the Home Office’s litmus test uses the wrong approach.

“If you’ve come to faith in an underground house church, where you’ve been able to borrow a New Testament for a week and have encountered the risen Lord Jesus, you’re not going to know when the date of Pentecost is.

“They should be trying to understand the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge”.

The Home Office said it would examine a report compiled by the APPG and claimed that guidance to assessors is regularly reviewed.

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