Inquiry investigates Christians’ freedoms

10 November 2011

by Ed Beavan

THE Christian faith in the UK is facing its “biggest challenge in the last 400 years” as Christians experi­ence rising intolerance in society, the first sitting of a parliamentary in­quiry, Clearing the Ground, heard on Tuesday.

The Conservative MP Gary Streeter chaired the inquiry, which seeks to establish whether changes to the law and recent court decisions have affected Christian freedoms in the UK. Representatives of four Christian groups gave evidence: the Evangelical Alliance, Premier Chris­tian Radio, the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, and the Maranatha Community.

The leader of the Maranatha community, Denis Wrigley, told the inquiry that there was “a struggle taking place for the soul of the nation”, and Christians were losing the ability to speak freely and express their convictions.

The executive director of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF), Mark Barrell, told the inquiry: “Many Christians are apprehensive they’re not ‘as equal’ before the law”. Christians were taking their cases to court as a last resort, but these cases were just “the tip of the iceberg”.

Tom Cordrey, a barrister from the LCF who was also giving evidence, said that there needed to be more proportionality applied in court cases involving Christians. He quoted the case of Lilian Ladele, the registrar in Islington who asked to be excused from carrying out same-sex cere­monies. Mr Cordrey said that the judge should have taken into account that there were plenty of other regis­trars to carry out these ceremonies.

The chief executive of Premier Christian Radio, Peter Kerridge, said that Christians’ freedom of expres­sion was being limited by “other groups’ rights encroaching upon Christians expressing them­selves”. Opposition to Christians was exemplified by coverage on the BBC, he said, which was “signifi­cantly more warm and sympathetic and positive in its portrayal of the Mus­lim faith than the Christian faith”.

The other members of the inquiry panel were the Labour MP Gavin Shuker, Conservative MPs David Burrowes and Fiona Bruce, and the Conservative peer Lord Edmiston. There will be two further hearings of the inquiry in the next two weeks.

On Tuesday, the director of the Mission and Public Affairs Division at the C of E, the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, will give evid­ence, along with representatives from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Methodist, Baptist, and URC Churches, and the campaign group Care.

Hotel owners in court. Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the Christian hotel owners who refused to allow a gay couple to share a bed, appeared

in the Court of Appeal this week. James Dinsmore QC, representing the Bulls, said that the 2007 Equality Act rated the gay couple’s rights higher than theirs. The case continues.

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