Church of England Bishops Meet Ministers Over ‘chilling’ Effect of Equality Laws
Church of England bishops have urged the Coalition to protect Christians from the “chilling” effect of equality laws, in a series of meetings with ministers.
By Tim Ross
07/11/2011 UK (The Telegraph)-Some employers see quiet displays of religious belief by their staff as being offensive “almost by definition”, the Church’s national assembly, the General Synod, has been warned.
Senior Anglicans have raised their concerns in meetings with government ministers and expect practical measures to safeguard Christian rights in response.
A series of cases in recent months have seen Christians face disciplinary action and even the law courts for expressing their beliefs, or displaying symbols such as the cross, at work.
Senior bishops including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, have raised their concerns over the pursuit of “equality” at the expense of religious freedom with government ministers, including David Cameron.
Dr Philip Giddings, chairman of the Church of England’s public affairs council, warned that while the law did not “prevent” Christians from expressing their views at work, employers too often failed respect religious rights.
“Some employers have interpreted the law in ways which seem to assume that reasonable and respectful expressions of faith are, almost by definition, offensive. This is a cause of great concern,” he told the General Synod meeting in York.
Dr Giddings later told reporters that the Church wanted ministers to bring in new laws to protect religious freedoms.
Dr Giddings added that the Church would monitor emerging case law on “how far employers can lawfully limit the ability of Christians to manifest their faith”.
“In several encounters with government ministers, notably on the Big Society, we have stressed the need to address the ‘chill factor’ which leads employers and others to assume that the law is more restrictive than it is,” he said. “We have had a sympathetic hearing and look forward to practical responses.”
Two Christian hotel owners were successfully sued for refusing to allow a homosexual couple to share a double room.
A Christian driver faced disciplinary action for placing a small palm cross on the dashboard of his company van. Colin Atkinson, 64, was called to a disciplinary hearing by the housing association where he had been employed for 15 years because he refused to remove the symbol.
Owen and Eunice Johns, a Pentecostalist couple from Derby, were rejected as potential foster carers because they told social workers they would not be able to tell a young child that a homosexual lifestyle was acceptable. They lost a legal challenge in the High Court.
Meanwhile, European judges have ordered ministers to make a formal statement on whether the government believes Christians’ rights have been infringed by decisions in the British courts.
Four Christians who believe they have suffered discrimination for their faith are taking their cases to the European Court in Strasbourg in a landmark legal fight.