Monday, July 18, 2011

MPs to investigate discrimination against Christians

Cases of discrimination against Christians at work and in public have led to concern about the erosion of religious freedom in the UK. Well, things are happening.

A select committee-style inquiry is to be held in Parliament this autumn to clarify how legislation on hate crime and equality affects Christians. Peers and MPs will be invited to consider whether changes to the law are needed.

The inquiry, which will be held in public and will take about three months, is the idea of MP Gary Streeter, who chairs Christians in Parliament. He said that while there was religious freedom in Britain, some groups were "whipping up an alternative view and generating fear" where there didn't need to be any.

"The outcome of our inquiry might be that the law needs to be nudged back in certain areas, and we won't shy away from saying so."

What's more, the Equality and Human Rights Commission appears to have done a U-turn. It says judges have interpreted equality laws too narrowly and should not have backed employers who pursued Christians for wearing crosses or refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.

The way human rights and equality law had been interpreted was insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief, it said. Christians who disagreed with homosexual equality rules should have the freedom to follow their conscience.

"The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person's needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades," said EHRC legal director John Wadham. "It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs."

The EHRC is to intervene - to call for more leeway for Christians to express their beliefs and live according to their consciences - in four human rights cases to come before the European Court of Human Rights. They are the cases of Lilian Ladele, a registrar removed from her job because she was not willing to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies; Gary McFarlane, a Relate counsellor who declined to give sex therapy to homosexual couples; Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who refused to stop wearing her crucifix; and Nadia Eweida, the BA check-in assistant who was told she could not wear a cross with her uniform.

As perhaps might have been expected, homosexuals and humanists have protested at the EHRC's decision. Ben Summerskill, of the homosexual activist group Stonewall, said he was "deeply disturbed" by the move. The British Humanist Association said the commission's intervention in these cases was "wholly disproportionate."

The battle for Christians' rights, however, is not yet won. Barnabas Fund reports that a Christian teacher in the UK has been ordered by her school not to talk about religion after answering a child's question.

The teacher was asked by a girl in her class whether the Christian God and the god of Islam were the same. When she said they were not, she was asked to explain how they were different. Following the discussion, the school department received a complaint from the Muslim parents of the girl.

"[The department] handled the situation well and stated that the child had asked the question and I had answered truthfully without giving or intending any offence," the teacher recalled.

But she has been told if children ask a question about any religious matter she must ignore the question or change the subject immediately.

Said the teacher: "I pointed out that Christianity was my life, not my religion. It was a living relationship with my Lord. I live it daily. I now feel I am being watched. I have always shared my faith with the children I teach whenever they ask me a question about my life, why I pray and do what I do."