The Archbishop of Canterbury has accused the Government of treating religious faith as a “problem” and an “eccentricity” practiced by “oddities, foreigners and minorities”.
Dr Rowan Williams also said that Government ministers are wrong to think that Christian beliefs are no longer relevant in modern Britain.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Dr Williams said: “The trouble with a lot of Government initiatives about faith is that they assume it is a problem, it’s an eccentricity, it’s practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities.
“The effect is to de-normalise faith, to intensify the perception that faith is not part of our bloodstream. And, you know, in great swaths of the country that’s how it is.”
The Archbishop’s comments follow a church-backed report which accused the Government of paying “lip service” to Christianity while “focusing intently” on Muslims.
Dr Williams also called on political leaders to be more open about their religious beliefs.
He said: “I think part of establishing their human credentials is saying, ‘This is where my motivation comes from. I’m in politics because this is what I believe.’ And that includes religious conviction.”
Rt Revd Stephen Lowe, former Bishop of Urban Life, backed Dr Williams, saying: “He’s absolutely on the ball. Religion is seen as being a problem because of the connection between radical Islam and terrorism that has tainted all religions.”
He added: “It’s quite clear that within the Government and the Opposition there are people of faith.
“The problem is that somehow the connection between what they see as their private faith is allowed to marginalise the significance of the contribution of faith communities to the life of the nation.”
Columnist Melanie Phillips welcomed Dr Williams’ comments, saying that he had “put his finger on what should be a cause of extreme disquiet – the war of attrition being waged against Christian beliefs.”
She added: “What this amounts to is that for Christians, the freedom to live according to their religious beliefs –one of the most fundamental precepts of a liberal society – is fast becoming impossible.
“Indeed, merely professing traditional Christian beliefs can cause such offence that it is treated as a crime.”
Miss Phillips pointed out that the police don’t pursue ‘hate crimes’ “whenever Christianity is pilloried, mocked and insulted – as happens routinely – but only when a minority faith is in the frame.”
She added that in Britain “religion and nation have formed a vicious cycle in which hostility to the country’s identity and values reflects and feeds into hostility to the religion upon which they are based.”
Last week Christians Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang went on trial after being charged with a crime for criticising Islam during a debate with a guest at the hotel they run in Liverpool.
They were found entirely innocent when the judge dismissed the case against them.
Earlier this year Duke Amachree, a homelessness prevention officer, was sacked by Wandsworth Council after he suggested that a terminally ill woman look to God for help.
Last year Gary McFarlane, a Christian counsellor working for Relate, was sacked because he did not want to give homosexual couples sex advice.