Senior Bishops Call For End To Persecution Of Christians In Britain

(Telegraph) – CHRISTIANS IN BRITAIN are being persecuted and “treated with disrespect”, senior bishops have said.

Six prominent bishops and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, describe the “discrimination” against churchgoers as “unacceptable in a civilised society”.

In a thinly-veiled attack on Labour, they claim that traditional beliefs on issues such as marriage are no longer being upheld and call on the major parties to address the issue in the run-up to the general election.

In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph, the bishops express their deep disquiet at the double standards of public sector employers, claiming that Christians are punished while followers of other faiths are treated far more sensitively.

Their intervention follows a series of cases in which Christians have been dismissed after seeking to express their faith. They highlight the plight of Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was banned from working on hospital wards for wearing a cross around her neck. This week she will begin a legal battle against the decision.

Christians are also increasingly concerned that the Government is ignoring their views on issues such as sex education and homosexuality when introducing new legislation.

A group of 640 head teachers, school governors and faith leaders have signed a separate letter to this newspaper warning that compulsory sex education in primary schools will erode moral standards and encourage sexual experimentation.

They call for the dropping of legislation that will see children as young as seven taught about sex and relationships.

In their letter, the bishops urge the Government to stop the persecution of Christians.

“We are deeply concerned at the apparent discrimination shown against Christians and we call on the Government to remedy this serious development.

“In a number of cases, Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship are simply not being upheld.

“There have been numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.”

In addition to Lord Carey, the letter has been signed by the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester; the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester; the Rt Rev Peter Forster, the Bishop of Chester; the Rt Rev Anthony Priddis, the Bishop of Hereford; the Rt Rev Nicholas Reade, the Bishop of Blackburn; and the Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill, the Bishop of Lichfield.

Mrs Chaplin will take the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust to an employment tribunal this week after she was told last year that she must hide or remove a small cross on her necklace if she wanted to continue working on hospital wards.

While the trust refused to grant her an exemption, it makes concessions for other faiths, including allowing Muslim nurses to wear headscarves on duty.

Mrs Chaplin, 54, has spent all of her career at the Exeter hospital and had never been challenged before over the necklace, which she has worn since her confirmation 38 years ago.

The bishops criticised the way in which Mrs Chaplin had been treated and stated that she should not be prevented from expressing her faith by wearing her cross.

“This is yet another case in which the religious rights of the Christian community are being treated with disrespect,” they say.

“To be asked by an employer to remove or ‘hide’ the cross is asking the Christian to hide their faith.”

The bishops said that it was “deeply disturbing” that the NHS trust’s uniform policy permits exemptions for religious clothing, but appears to regard the cross as “just an item of jewellery”.

They also expressed surprise that the court has asked for evidence to be submitted to verify that Christians wear crosses visibly around their neck.

Mrs Chaplin is being represented by leading human right’s barrister Paul Diamond, who also advised Caroline Petrie, the nurse who was suspended for offering to pray for a patient. She was later reinstated.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, founder and director of the Christian Legal Centre, described the treatment of Mrs Chaplin as “scandalous”.

“This is yet another case of double standards for Christians,” she said.

“It would seem the Exeter Hospital would rather use its money to deny Christians their rights than using its scarce financial resources to treat patients.

“It is ridiculous that in our country with such a great Christian heritage the court requires evidence to prove that the cross is a Christian symbol whilst not applying the same standards to other faiths.”

Lynn Lane, the human resources director for the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust, said: “The trust has fully acknowledged that this has become an important issue for Mrs Chaplin which is why we offered her a number of different options in the hope that a mutually acceptable solution could be agreed.

“For the trust this has always been about compliance with our agreed uniform policy and the safety of staff and patients.”

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, the human rights group, said: “Whether personal faith motivates the wearing of a cross, turban, head scarf or Star of David, it is fundamentally illiberal to require people to check such an important part of themselves at the workplace door for no justifiable reason.”

” Freedom of thought, conscience and religion should protect people of all faiths and none.

“We look forward to the Supreme Court demonstrating this by overturning the Court of Appeal in Nadia Eweida’s case against BA.”

Gay Weddings To Be Allowed In Church

(Independent) – GAY MEN AND WOMEN will finally be allowed to marry in churches after the House of Lords dramatically voted in favour of lifting the ban on religious premises holding same-sex partnerships.

The amendment to the Equality Bill, which was tabled as a free vote by gay Muslim peer Waheed Alli, received overwhelming backing in the Lords, including from a number of prominent Anglican bishops.

Under current UK law religious venues are forbidden from holding civil partnerships, although some liberal denominations within Christianity and Judaism have been willing to bless gay unions once a partnership ceremony has taken place elsewhere.

The lifting of the ban, which still needs to be approved by the House of Commons, will now give religious venues the option of conducting civil partnerships – but it will not compel them to do so, as some traditionalists had feared.

Lord Alli denied the suggestion that religious communities would be forced to accept gay marriages.

“Religious freedom cannot begin and end with what one religion wants,” he said. “This amendment does not place an obligation on any religious organisation to host civil partnerships in their buildings. But there are many gay and lesbian couples who want to share their civil partnership with the congregations that they worship with. And there are a number of religious organisations that want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that.”

Gay rights activists and members of churches that have pushed for a lifting of the ban hailed the Lords’ decision as victory for equal rights and religious expression.

But the amendment has caused consternation among religious figures who are opposed to homosexuality and fear that they could eventually face costly legal battles if they sacked or disciplined clergy who ignored their own prohibitions on gay marriage.

The vote came just hours before the last remaining Catholic adoption agency went to the High Court to try and force the government to allow it to continue refusing to place adoptees with homosexual foster parents.

Since 2005 adoption agencies have been compelled to consider gay applicants with the result that all but one of Britain’s Catholic adoption agencies have either shut down or had to disassociate themselves from the Catholic Church.

Dr Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs for the Evangelical Alliance, said he feared a similar thing could happen to churches that continued to refused to offer gay ceremonies.

“We don’t want to see in a few years’ time churches ending up in the same boat, where they are forced to comply with anti-discrimination law or close down,” he said.

For the Church of England the amendment is equally problematic. Although a small number of Anglican clergy will inevitably consider holding civil partnerships in their churches, they would still be technically forbidden from doing so under the Church of England’s canon law which can only be changed by the General Synod or the House of Bishops.

Gay marriages in churches will not happen immediately because the amendment must still be approved by the House of Commons. MPs are unlikely to oppose it because the vote was so overwhelming in the Lords. But with a general election and change of parliament coming up it could be months before the Commons actually gets round to debating the ban.

The amendment is a major victory for religious groups who have no theological problems with the idea of marrying gays in their religious venues.

Three religious communities – the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Liberal Judaism and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches – have already said that they wish to hold legally recognised same-sex partnerships. Some liberal clergy within Methodist, Baptist and Anglican denominations could also conceivably open their doors to gay weddings.

Many religious gay campaigners hope that the lifting of the ban will eventually lead to gay couples being allowed to use the word “marriage”, rather than civil partnerships.

The liberal Christian think-tank Ekklesia yesterday called on the government to entirely overhaul Britain’s marriage laws and separate the legal process of registration from religious ceremonies. Many believe such a step would allow both objectors to gay marriage and supporters to find a way of expressing their beliefs freely and openly within British law.

“An overhaul of marriage law is urgently required to respond to the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society,” said co-director Symon Hill. “It is time for a legal change that allows people to enter into marriages or partnerships as a public, communal, and if important to them, a religious commitment, with legal registration being a separate process.”

Quakers are most likely to start conducting civil partnerships in their churches as soon as the ban is legally lifted. Last year they took the unprecedented step of announcing that they wanted to give gay couples full marriage ceremonies. The move was significant because, like rabbis and Church of England priests, Quaker registrars are allowed to marry people on behalf of the state.

Chris Campbell, a Quaker who is in a long term relationship with a Roman Catholic, told The Independent that many gay Christians want to see the day when they can have a civil partnership in their church.

“I really wasn’t comfortable with the idea of going to a civil registrar: it’s not what marriage is about for us,” he said. “It’s a solemn and binding commitment in the presence of God. Without some recognition of that religious element, it certainly put me off the idea of getting married.”

He believes many churches will be able to improve their image once they are no longer banned from holding civil ceremonies. “There are not one but two causes for celebration,” he said. “Not only are people in same-sex relationships closer than ever before to having their love recognised in the same way as any other committed Christian couple, but it’s also a triumph for the image of the church. Some people now see the Church as being out-of-touch, but this amendment demonstrates otherwise: it gives Churches the right to hold civil partnerships on their premises if they choose. They’ll finally have the choice to act on the conclusions they’ve come to after their own prayerful discussions, and that’s got to be a good thing.”

Fatwa Issued Against Suicide Bombings

(Telegraph) – THE LEADER of a worldwide Muslim movement has issued a fatwa in Britain condemning terrorism and warning suicide bombers that they are “destined for hell”.

Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a leading cleric in Pakistan, has written a 600-page religious ruling that says “suicide bombings and attacks against civilian targets are not only condemned by Islam, but render the perpetrators totally out of the fold of Islam, in other words, to be unbelievers.”

Dr Qadri runs the Minhaj-ul-Quran movement based in Lahore but also has many British followers.

He follows the moderate sufi form of Islam and has campaigned for greater religious tolerance.

But his ruling is among the most comprehensive examinations of terrorism and could have an affect on those on the fringes of extremism.

Shahid Mursaleen, spokesman for Minhaj-ul-Quran UK, said: “He has hit hard on the terrorists as it prevents Islamists from considering suicide bombers as ‘martyrs’. This fatwa injects doubt into the minds of potential suicide bombers.

“Extremist groups based in Britain recruit youth by brainwashing them that they will ‘with certainty’ be rewarded in the next life and Dr Qadri’s fatwa has removed this key intellectual factor from their minds.”

The fatwa has been billed as “arguably the most comprehensive” theological refutation of Islamic terrorism to date by counter extremism think tank the Quilliam foundation.

A Quilliam spokesman said: “Terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda continue to justify their mass killings with self-serving readings of religious scripture.

“Fatwas that demolish and expose such theological innovations will consign Islamist terrorism to the dustbin of history.”

The Minhaj-ul-Quaran movement runs courses in combating religious extremism in educational centres throughout Britain including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Nelson, Walsall, Glasgow and Dundee.

Communities Minister Shahid Malik, whose Dewsbury constituency was home to 7/7 bomber Mohammad Siddique Khan, welcomed the fatwa.

“It is incumbent on Muslims to stand up for their faith – when 7/7 occurred those four evil young men killed themselves and over 50 innocent people because they followed a twisted and perverted interpretation of Islam which told them by doing so they would go to heaven,” he said.

“A clear and unequivocal message must go out that Islam teaches that these four are not martyrs going to heaven but sinners going somewhere very different indeed.

“Hence, I very much welcome the work of Dr Qadri in helping reinforce this most crucial of message to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”

Christianity Being ‘Squeezed-out in the name of equality’

(Daily Mail) – CHRISTIANITY is being wiped out from public life in the name of equality, the Archbishop of York said yesterday.

Dr John Sentamu accused politicians and others of trying to sideline religion by promoting their false idea of ‘tolerance’.

He cited Labour’s equality laws as an attack on the freedoms of churches.

Attempts to denigrate church schools and ban the mention of Christmas in favour of bland ‘Winterval’ celebrations were also part of a drive to censor Christianity, he said.

The Archbishop’s comments followed the Pope’s unprecedented attack on Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill earlier this week.

Benedict XVI called the proposed legislation ‘unjust’, saying it restricted religious freedom and violated ‘the natural law’  –  in other words, Christian teaching.

Dr Sentamu said in a speech in Newcastle: ‘For all our judicial tolerance, Britain has become in many ways a less tolerant society today.

‘One of the main areas in which we see this is in the Government’s treatment of religion, which they now prefer to call ” faith communities”.

‘The Equality Bill which is going through the House of Lords had contained a clause which would have made it very difficult for a religious group to employ someone of the religion for a position within their organisation.

‘A church wishing to employ a youth worker would have been unable to advertise for Christians, and priests from other parts of the world would find it increasingly difficult to preach or work in churches here unless it could be demonstrated that there were no suitable local candidates.’

The Archbishop declared: ‘This is symptomatic of a trend which has intensified in Britain over the past 50 years in the name of tolerance. That is, an attempt to remove religion from public life.

‘And in the process, tolerance, which is supposed to be a tool to help us deal with difference and disagreement, has instead become a negative virtue, a means of diminishment and marginalisation.’

Dr Sentamu said some people wanted to relegate the church to a place only in the private lives of its members.

‘A process of ghetto-isation at work in a ferocious and insidious way’

Such critics, he said, wanted to censor the phrase ‘church schools’ and replace it with ‘faith schools’. The Archbishop said this was ‘a process of ghetto-isation at work in a ferocious and insidious way’.

He said: ‘They are the ones who would ban talk of Christmas in public places and would advocate a bland Winterval instead.

‘They are not all hostile to religions in general or the Christian religion in particular. They simply don’t want it in the public square.’

Dr Sentamu, who is second in the hierarchy of the Church of England, was last month fiercely critical of Miss Harman’s Equality Bill, telling the House of Lords ‘that way lies ruin’.

Equality minister Miss Harman has dropped the most controversial clauses of her legislation following a vote against them by peers.

Earlier this week Dr Sentamu spoke out against easing the rules on assisted suicide prosecutions. The clarity of his views have made him increasingly command more attention than the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Although Dr Williams shares many of his colleague’s apprehensions about the way Christianity is being sidelined, his advocacy of controversial policies such as the recognition of Islamic sharia law have undermined his popularity.

In his ‘City of Peace’ lecture yesterday, Dr Sentamu said public debate was discouraged on ‘key areas which are seen as difficult’, such as religion, immigration and the optimum funding for public services.

‘In consequence, these areas of difference are thrust into the margins where they do not go away but instead tend to fester,’ he said.

He called for people to show ‘gracious magnanimity’  –  which tries to understand other people’s point of view  –  rather than tolerance in the way it has become understood.

Pope Condemns UK Gay Equality Laws

(Guardian) – POPE BENEDICT XVI marked the announcement of his first papal visit to Britain with an unprecedented attack on the ­government’s equality legislation yesterday, claiming it threatened religious freedom and ran contrary to “natural law”.

Speaking at the Vatican to visiting Catholic bishops of England and Wales, he described changes to the law as unjust and urged them to invoke “missionary zeal” to resist them.

The comments came during a five-yearly trip to the Vatican by the bishops, during which they made presentations on their concerns about the place of religion in an increasingly secular society.

The pope’s broadside appeared to be aimed squarely at recent legislation that prevents Catholic adoption agencies from discriminating against gay couples, and the proposed equality bill, which would make it harder for churches to exclude job applications from homosexuals or people who have changed their gender.

The pope said: “The effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal [of equality] has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.”

He also used the address to confirm that he would visit the UK in September. But his comments drew swift criticism from the National Secular Society, which said it would stage protests during the state-funded trip. Terry Sanderson, the society’s president, said: “The taxpayer is going to be faced with a bill for £20m for the visit in which he has already indicated he will attack equal rights and promote discrimination.”

Sanderson said he would seek to bring together gay and feminist groups, family planning organisations, abortion rights and victim support groups, and anyone else who “felt under siege” from the ­Vatican’s “current militancy”.

But yesterday the Pope urged the bishops to make their voices heard and defend the faith, saying that Christian teaching did not undermine or restrict the freedom of others.

“Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of ­freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but are giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the gospel’s right to be heard?” he said.

“If the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice. This requires not only you, the bishops, but also priests, teachers, catechists, writers – in short, all who are engaged in the task of communicating the gospel – to be attentive to the promptings of the spirit, who guides the whole church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal.”

Before the group meeting yesterday, the pope met the 35 bishops, who each reported on diocesan matters. The ­archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, said they were encouraged by the pope’s words. “It has been clear that he knows the situation and applied it to a move in legislation to look for equality. Adoption agencies either closed or moved away from the Catholic church because of the legislation. That was an example of what I believe was an unreasonable curtailment of the Catholic contribution. Of the 480 agencies, only 11 were Catholic. It was disproportionate.

“We do not support the notion of ­discrimination. But you have to distinguish between people.”

A Catholic commentator said the impact of the sexual orientation regulations had left a deeper impression on the bishops than the equality bill. Clifford Longley said: “The bishops are still very bothered by the gay adoption issue, they felt it was grossly unfair. The equality bill was more of an Anglican priority. The Catholics were concerned, but it wasn’t top of their agenda.” He said the pope’s letter was a vote of confidence in England and Wales’s bishops, urging them to be proud of their beliefs and to resist state attempts to squeeze them out.

His response to the bishops could be seen as an assessment of their performance. Longley added: “He is telling them to stand up for their right to be heard. He does accept that in a secular society they will be one voice among many.”