The Clearing the Ground inquiry published its findings this week in a report which calls for changes in the law to ensure that the freedoms of believers in this country are not further jeopardised.
The inquiry committee was drawn together by Christians in Parliament in response to the number of high-profile court cases and media reports suggesting Christians are becoming increasingly marginalised in the UK.
The parliamentary committee heard testimonies from alleged victims and leaders of Christian groups.
Contributors to the inquiry included Christian MPs and peers such as Baroness Berridge of the Vale of Catmose, CARE, Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, the Evangelical Alliance, Gary Streeter MP, Gavin Shuker MP, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Lord Edmiston of Lapworth, Premier Christian Media Trust, Theos and World Vision.
With regular articles on the secularisation of Britain, and the difficulties Christians are finding within the workplace and wider community, it perhaps comes as no surprise that the inquiry states that: "Christians in the UK face problems in living out their faith and these problems have been mostly caused and exacerbated by social, cultural and legal changes over the past decade."
The report includes recommendations on how the Church should respond, recognising that Christian groups need to ensure they do not overstate tensions: "There is a growing need for churches and Christian organisations to take responsibility when their actions may have contributed to a perception that the scale of the problem facing Christians is greater than it is."
There has been a certain degree of backlash against the report. Terry Sanderson, president of The National Secular Society, believes the report is: "simply more self-serving and dishonest propaganda from Christians who are determined to overturn the equality and human rights legislation that stand in the way of their discriminating against other people."
The society's website reported that: "It seems that some Christians are now beginning to see that by overstating their case they are damaging it" and actually cited part of the report itself to back this up: "Some of the legal activity, associated campaigning and media coverage have been unwise and possibly counter-productive to the positive role that Christians play in society."
The Clearing the Ground report concludes that the evidence gathered during the inquiry overwhelming suggests that Christianity is being squeezed out of public life.
It highlights the fact that changes in legislation, aimed at ensuring equality, has actually heightened, rather than reduced, social tensions. The report also cites fundamental problems with the 2010 Equality Act and failures of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Gavin Shuker MP said: "I hope that the report will encourage the government to recognise that there is an urgent need for clearer guidance for statutory bodies and employers about what religion is, how it should be treated and how it makes a huge and vital contribution to our society.
Nobody wants to see a society heading down the tram lines of an American style culture war. In order to make the courtroom the very last option, we all need to work harder at finding solutions when the rights of different groups are in tension."
The report recommends that its findings and recommendations be used "as a basis for dialogue with other faith groups on the broader question of religion in public life."
The report will also be discussed with the government, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and other groups to see how we can find a way to resolve these complex but important issues."
Dave Landrum, the Evangelical Alliance's advocacy director, said: "A properly diverse and plural society should make space for Christians to articulate and live out their beliefs, and it should even expect them to be different to those followed by other religions or those of no religion. If the Equality and Human Rights Commission want to defend religious liberty then it needs to start dismantling the hierarchy of human rights that it has helped to construct, and see religion as a protected characteristic worthy of equal treatment."
To download or purchase a copy of the report click here.
March 1st, 2012 - Posted & Written by Claire Musters