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Be ready to be sued under Equality Bill, Government Minister warns Christians

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A Government Minister admitted last week that the Equality Bill, which is currently going through its parliamentary stages in Westminster, could trigger a raft of cases directed at undermining the liberty of Christian denominations.

Michael Foster, Labour’s Minister for Equalities, responsible for the progress of the Government’s Equality Bill through the House of Commons, said churches should be prepared to defend their faith and its expression from secularists who may seek to attack them when the Bill becomes law. He admitted that the legislation would open the floodgates to a tide of sexual and religious discrimination cases.

Mr Foster, who is also a member of the Christian Socialists, was asked at a briefing of the religious press last week whether he thought the Equality Bill would lead to legal actions from atheists. He suggested that if Christians expended the same energy in defending themselves as their enemies did in attacking the Church they might be in a stronger position. He said:

‘Both Christians and atheists need to be lining up their lawyers.

‘The secularists should have the right to challenge the church and if the church’s argument is good enough – which I believe it is – then the church should win through.

‘Government is used to the fact that its legislation will be challenged in the courts. People feel very strongly about these issues. We can’t do anything about this and we wouldn’t want to,’ he added.

Mr Foster said he would like to see the churches being bolder.

‘I would like to see the faith groups stand up and be counted for what they think and to challenge secularism, if that’s what they want to challenge.’

Last month, a coalition of ‘faith groups’, human rights campaigners, trade unions and other secular organisations, met in the House of Commons to call on Parliament to remove what it calls ‘religious opt-outs’ from the Equality Bill. The coalition, hosted by Independent Labour MP Clare Short, said that even limited protection for churches is unacceptable.

(See the CCFON report)

The Equality Bill is being pushed through Parliament at the time when another legal instrument is being prepared at the European Union level. The EU Directive on ‘Equal Treatment’, which was published by the European Commission on 2 July 2008, creates a threat to free speech and the free exercise of religious conscience. If executed in its current form, the Directive increases inequality for Christians and places perilous restrictions on Christians expressing their faith, increasing censorship of Christian expression and Government sanctioned persecution of Christians.

The Spanish Presidency will take over leading the negotiations in early January 2010 and is to make the Directive a priority.

(See CCFON Action Pack on the Directive)

Andrea Minichiello Williams, Director of CCFON, said: ‘It is not a secret that the Equality Bill reinforces a secular notion of equality, which brings a new oppressive ideology and discrimination of those who proclaim orthodox Christian beliefs. In the last few years our society has already seen a large number of cases where Christians have lost their jobs and have been harassed by those who eagerly support the new secular agenda and its intolerance. Law should act as a shield to protect minorities and not a sword to persecute majorities. ’

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