Pope highlighted religious liberty threat, say critics

Commentators have spoken out in support of the Pope’s warning that religious liberty in Britain is being threatened by ‘equality’ legislation.

The Government’s Equality Bill in particular has come under fierce attack from critics who warn about the threat it could pose.

Yesterday the Government confirmed it will not overturn the House of Lords votes on the Equality Bill which preserved religious groups’ employment freedoms.

Daily Mail columnist Andrew Pierce, who describes himself as an “out, proud, gay man”, said that he agreed with much of what the Pope said.

Arguing that Harriet Harman’s equality legislation is failing to live up to its name, he wrote: “Surely the idea of equality is that we would all be treated as equal – those who support gay rights and those who oppose them.”

He cited the example of Pauline Howe, a Christian grandmother who was verbally abused at a gay pride parade and then investigated by police for ‘homophobic hatred’ when she complained.

Mr Pierce said although he disagreed with her views, he “absolutely” supported Mrs Howe’s right to express her opinions.

Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, agreed that the Pope’s concerns about religious liberty should be taken seriously.

Writing in The Times he drew attention to the JFS case, when a Jewish school was told recently by the UK’s Supreme Court that its criteria for deciding who is Jewish are unlawful.

This, he said, along with other cases, shows “we are in dangerous territory indeed”.

Lord Sacks continued: “When Christians, Jews and others feel that the ideology of human rights is threatening their freedoms of association and religious practice, a tension is set in motion that is not healthy for society, freedom or Britain.”

Writing in the Scotsman, self-confessed atheist Peter Jones said that the Equality Bill would have infringed the rights of religious groups to carry out their daily lives according to the teachings of their faith.

He said the Pope’s comments had made him aware of the “danger of creating a liberal tyranny”.

Mr Jones described Harriet Harman’s equality drive as “equalitarian tanks” advancing on and “smashing down the rights of religious freedom”.

An editorial in Monday’s Daily Telegraph pointed out that the Pope “framed his denunciation in terms of religious freedom, which nowadays seems to take second place to other sorts of freedom”.

The editorial also called the Equality Bill a “threat to the freedom of religious expression and faith” because of the way it narrows employment freedoms.

The Bill is not simply a “consolidation measure” but rather “deeply ideological legislation”, The Daily Telegraph claimed.

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