Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, has called on Christians to regain confidence in their faith and to speak about it. “It is simply a matter of freedom of speech,” he has said. His comments were prompted by a recent report which has found that Christians living in Britain are increasingly afraid of revealing their religious beliefs for fear of persecution.
In August 2014 the Equality and Human Rights Commission put out a call for evidence for what is believed to be the biggest survey into social attitudes to religious beliefs, including atheism. Over the next three months they received 2,483 submissions of evidence, of which the vast majority, 1,030, came from Christians. Atheists were the next most represented group, with 188 submissions.
The report’s 200 pages detail a whole range of examples, experienced by people who follow major faiths, minor faiths, or no faith at all, of discrimination and ridicule. But discrimination against Christians in particular was “a prominent theme”. as followers of Christ felt that “Christianity had lost its place as the predominant religion in the UK relative to secular views.”
Christians as a group reported that “It did not seem acceptable to criticise other religions in the workplace whereas anyone could criticise Christianity;” that “the ability to express Christian views in the workplace was believed to be opposed by employees who were LGB, by followers of other religions such as Islam and Hinduism, and by people who had no religion or were Atheists;” and that “the ‘devotions’ of Muslim employees were regarded as more protected under equality legislation than Christian ones.”
Examples included the law firm manager who recounted that “When I organised a Christmas party a couple of employees objected on the basis that the use of the word Christmas would promote a religious belief. We had to agree upon ‘an End of Year Party/Christmas Party according to your beliefs’. I was offended but the boundaries have become unclear.”
A middle manager working in education reported that, thanks to a number of reports in media of Christians being sacked for praying or having been asked to remove their cross, they had “become extra cautious (even anxious) about what I am and am not allowed to say.”
A Presbyterian nurse involved in family planning reported being “treated with disdain” and “ostracised by colleagues” after suggesting discussing abstinence with teenage clients as one of the many approaches to preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
And a Catholic respondent pointed out the double standards applied to Christians and secularists, saying that at their workplace “The wearing or ‘showing of’ crucifix, rosary or any other Catholic jewellery was forbidden, yet nose rings, tongue piercings and tattoos were ok.”
Writing in the Telegraph, Lord Carey said “Things have come to a pretty poor pass when, in a country whose history, landscape, literature and laws is so immersed in the Christian faith, we find that Christian believers feel forced to hide their beliefs in the workplace.”
But he said that most of the hostility towards Christians came not from those of other religions, but from atheists determined to exclude religion from public life.
“I have never found a single Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist who was offended by someone wishing them a “Happy Christmas”.
“In fact, the main hostility towards religious believers comes from a very small minority of bigoted atheists who seek to banish all religious belief from public life completely. One family reported that a teacher told a class of children that people who believed God created the universe are “religious nutters”. A girl who retorted that she believed in such a God was then ridiculed in front of her classmates.”
The EHRC report notes that “The high number of Christian and Atheist responses, in particular, is reflected in the sometimes polarised nature of the issues raised.” For Lord Carey, the polarisation of views is down to society becoming “increasingly illiterate about religious faith.”
That illiteracy is made apparent through the requirement for Christians to leave their religion at the front door of their workplaces. One man, who works in health care, reported that “he had been given a practical guide to religion and belief in the workplace that said that, ‘It is vital that the personal religious beliefs of health care or other staff do not impact on the care given to patients'” But the report noted that “he felt it was impossible to abide by its requirements because his Christianity was essential to the way he practised his work”
Another, an employer who runs a care home told the EHRC “I chose the work I do because I am a Christian. I have had the opportunity of praying with a man who had just died on request of his wife. However in general I am too scared to actively talk about my faith at work in case I get into trouble.”
Lord Carey said “It is right to listen and respect a variety of viewpoints and beliefs that are all brushing against each other in a plural society. By the same token, there should be no apology by Christian people when they speak out about their beliefs.
“So I say to Christians of all denominations: don’t be intimidated by a hostile workplace and challenge the hostility with good humour. Regain your confidence in a loving and forthright faith. And speak of it. It is simply a matter of freedom of speech.”
The EHRC, a non-departmental public body established by the 2006 Equalities Act, has itself come under fire for persecuting Christians in the pursuit of equality.
Commenting on the report, Simon Calvert, spokesman for the Christian Institute said: “Clearly many Christians up and down the country are being marginalised in the workplace because of their faith. Equality legislation is often part of the problem rather than the solution.
“The EHRC should not fall into the trap of seeing secularism as neutral, and using equality law to enforce it. Secularist campaigners have certainly tried to use equality legislation to impose secularism on everybody.
“The humanists and atheists who told the EHRC they felt “excluded” in workplaces where prayer meetings were allowed illustrates their intolerance of religious expression.
“The EHRC has a track record of vigorously pursuing cases against Christians, such as B&B owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull, whose case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court.
“They need to heed the call of respondents to this survey, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and recognise the need for a change in the law to better accommodate those with religious belief.”