Archbishops face gag, MPs are told

17 November 2011

by Ed Beavan

AN Archbishop might soon be prevented from saying that marriage should be between a man and a woman, making Britain a “frighten­ing place” in which to live, a Parliamentary inquiry investigating Christian free­dom in the UK heard on Tuesday.

The second of three sittings of the Clearing the Ground inquiry (News, 11 November) heard evidence from representatives of the Church of England, the RC Church, a joint delegation representing the Meth­odist, Baptist, and United Re­formed Churches, and the Evan­gelical campaigners CARE.

The inquiry seeks to discover whether recent changes to the law, and court judgments involving Chris­tians, have diminished Christian freedom.

The parliamentary co-ordinator for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Richard Kornicki, told the inquiry that, if in the future religious doc­trine had to come under law, “an archbishop could no longer state that Christian doctrine hasn’t changed for 2000 years.” This would create “an uncom­fortable country to live in”.

He said that, in the recent spate of court cases involving Christians, “what we’re beginning to see is the rights of Christian freedom versus sexuality rights, and Christians taking second place,” a “worrying” de­velop-ment.

The problem for Christians in the UK was exacerbated by the fact that new areas of law under the Equalities Act were being operated by people who didn’t understand religion, he said.

The director of the C of E’s Mission and Public Affairs Division, the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, said that the Church, which had pre­viously had power and been in the “driving seat”, was experiencing a sense of loss. Sometimes it seemed that people were “out to get us”. He cited the example of the closure of the RC adoption agencies. “What harm would have been caused for anyone by letting different types of agencies exist?”

Dan Boucher, the director of parlia­mentary affairs at CARE, told the panel that the raft of new legislation brought in by the previous Govern­ment since 2005 had created a “massive sea-change, which has im­pacted on Christians”. It was par­ticularly a problem for Evan­gelicals and Roman Catholics, illustrated by about 70 court cases that had taken place.

The cross-party inquiry is being chaired by Gary Streeter MP, and includes Gavin Shuker MP, Fiona Bruce MP, Lord Edmiston, and Lady Berridge.

The committee will sit for a third and final time next Tuesday.

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