MPs Jim Shannon and Norman Lamb are leading a debate on Christian freedom in the House of Commons on Thursday.
Westminster Hall will stage the debate at 1.30pm. The title is”Freedom of religion or belief.”
Earlier this month Barnabas Fund published a booklet entitled ‘Turn the Tide’ to which we provide a link here. (All our links open automatically in a new tab.)
Magna Carta vs Louise Casey
The booklet shows the history of religious freedom in our jurisdictions. It quotes Magna Carta: ‘”The English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired.” So says the very first clause of Magna Carta, the “great charter” signed by King John and the barons of England on 15 June 1215. Only four of the Magna Carta’s 63 clauses have remained part of English law to this day. This is one of them.’
It goes on to show a Government review carried out by Dame Louise Casey struck against the Magna Carta principle. Christian Voice carried an earlier article on the Casey Report. ‘Turn the Tide’ says: ‘The report defined “extremism” as views “at odds with the views of mainstream society.” It gave examples from various religions include “newer Christian churches” and stated that “all such instances undermine integration and should be challenged.” Elsewhere the Casey Review made clear that it considered such views to include traditional views of sexuality. Dame Louise recommended “a new oath for holders of public office” indicating that this should express support for “British values.” Elsewhere in the report she included support for LGBT ideology as part of British values.’
The booklet reminds us that Parliament abolished various “Test Acts” between 1719 and 1871. It says: ‘These “Test Acts” required anyone wanting to become a school teacher, magistrate, local councillor, MP or university student to publicly assent, often by swearing an oath, to a particular set of beliefs. The law thus excluded Nonconformist Christians and Roman Catholics from any of the above positions.’
But in an astonishing display of anti-Christian prejudice, Dame Louise wrote: ‘While many people in the UK appear to be seeing religion as increasingly less important and, in some cases, less of a force for good, for others, religion is very important in their daily lives. Within this latter group there appear to be some who are keen to take religion backwards and away from 21st Century British values … on issues such as …sexual orientation.’
‘Turn the Tide’ contends that the courts and tribunals are upholding a new set of surreptitious Test Acts, brought in with no parliamentary scrutiny.
Cases cited by ‘Turn the Tide’
‘Turn the Tide’ cites the following recent cases in support:
In 2015, academics at Sheffield University expelled Felix Ngole from a social work course because he previously posted comments on Facebook supporting a Biblical view of marriage.
This is a new “University Test Act” it says – Sheffield University requires social work students to support same-sex marriage. And that is a religious or quasi-religious view.
In November 2017, Cherwell School in north Oxford suspended Christian teacher Joshua Sutcliffe.
His offence was inadvertently to include a girl pupil who claims to be a trans boy in an approving ‘Well done, girls.’ Mr Sutcliffe had immediately apologised, saying it had been a mere slip of tongue.
‘Turn the Tide’ goes on: ‘However, later the pupil’s mother complained that the comment was discriminatory. Mr Sutcliffe was removed from teaching and made to work in the staffroom while an investigation took place. He was then suspended for an indefinite period after the school said his “misgendering” breached its equality policy.’
In a third case, it says: ‘Andrew McClintock, who had served as a magistrate for 18 years on the South Yorkshire bench, was forced to resign after requesting to be “screened out” of cases involving children for adoption with same-sex households.’
Preaching cases more doubtful
When it comes to street preaching, ‘Turn the Tide’ is on less stable ground. Yes, Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell were convicted of public order offences in Bristol magistrates court in February last year. Indeed, the prosecutor told the court ‘that publicly quoting from the King James Bible “in the context of modern British society, must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.”‘
But our brothers saw their conviction overturned in the Crown Court later that year. No street preacher, properly advised and represented, has ever been convicted of a public order offence in our jurisdictions.
Nor is the case of Pastor James McConnell compelling. He was indeed ‘prosecuted for a theological critique of Islam in a sermon he preached in his church’ in Belfast. The sermon appeared on YouTube. According to the Guardian, Pastor James denounced Islam as “heathen”, “satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell”. Charges came under the Communications Act. But the court cleared Pastor James ‘after a three-day trial in a verdict that upheld the right to offend under the principle of freedom of expression.’
‘Turn the Tide’ calls for ‘a new law’
Barnabas Fund is calling for a new law ‘which positively affirms all seven aspects of freedom of religion that have developed over the last 500 years in the UK.’ It has the written support of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP on the back page of ‘Turn the Tide’.
‘Turn the Tide’ says it will need to include ‘freedom from being required to affirm a particular worldview or set of beliefs in order to hold a public sector job or stand for election; work in professions such as teaching, healthcare and law; study at school, college or university; or give parental care to a child.’
Andrew McLintock lost his case to have his freedom of conscience recognized when practising as a Justice of the Peace. The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled against him.
Similarly, Christian prison worker Barry Trayhorn lost his case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2017. That was over his right to quote the Bible on homosexuality in a prison chapel service.
In 2009, as the Independent reports, Christian registrar Lillian Ladele lost in the Court of Appeal. She contested a ruling that she had not been discriminated against by being disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnerships. And she lost.
Do we need a new law?
Whether we actually need a new law is open to debate. The same judges will interpret any new law who are ruling against Christian freedoms on a day to day basis in our courts and tribunals. It may be that a law could be drafted in such a way as to compel judges to uphold freedom of religion. However, they might simply invoke the higher cause of ‘human rights’ and strike it down.
In 2013 both the Christian Institute and the National Secular Society became concerned at the number of Public Order Offences the police and prosecutors were bringing against Christian street preachers. The Christian Institute were concerned on the matter of Christian freedom. The National Secular Society were concerned from a freedom of speech point of view. They wanted to protect comedians such as Rowan Atkinson who would insult religions and the religious. They were also concerned about adverse publicity of police crackdowns on preachers.
As a result, the Institute and the Society joined forces. They successfully campaigned to have the word ‘insulting’ removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.
The change has made not a scrap of difference to Christian preachers. The police are still arresting them. The CPS are still preferring charges. They are merely basing the arrests and the charges on the word ‘abusive’ instead. They are, as we point out above, still losing those cases.
But the heavy-handed police approach needs not a new law but smarter guidance from senior officers.
Support the MPs
Christian Voice intends to start taking these cases to the streets. We are now planning a witness outside Sheffield University and another outside Cherwell School. Watch this space.
But in the meantime, the Bible says:
1Tim 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
Please email your MP via this Parliament website link and ask him or her to attend the debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday and support MP’s Jim Shannon and Norman Lamb. Above all, please pray for the debate for the light of Christ to shine through.