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General Synod backs right of Christians to manifest faith in public life

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The Church of England’s Parliament, the General Synod, met in York last night (8 July) and decided to overwhelmingly back the right of Christians to ‘manifest their faith in the public square’.

In a debate brought about by a General Synod Member and cleric from the Peterborough Diocese, the Revd Stephen Trott, a bold message on religious freedom was sent to the Government and the UK and European Courts from all three Houses; the Bishops, Clergy and the laity.

Nurse Caroline Petrie, discriminated against for offering to pray with a patient, was on the platform of the Synod in York to assist Revd Trott as the Synod listened to accounts of religious discrimination against Christians.

Teacher Olive Jones, sacked on the spot after giving her testimony to a 15 year old student who was too unwell to attend school, was also present to assist. 

Motion

Following the debate, the Synod voted by 263 to 25 to pass:

“That this Synod express its conviction that it is the calling of Christians to order and govern our lives in accordance with the teaching of Holy Scripture, and to manifest our faith in public life as well as in private, giving expression to our beliefs in the written and spoken word, and in practical acts of service to the local community and to the nation.”

Four British Christians are taking their cases of religious discrimination to the European Court of Human Rights on September 4, and they will be boosted by the General Synod’s decision.

The motion passed will now be used by lawyers who will be appealing the British Court judgments against Shirley Chaplin and Gary McFarlane.

Shirley Chaplin, a NHS nurse, faced disciplinary action after being told that she was no longer permitted to wear the Cross she had worn for over 30 years since her Confirmation, while at work. 

Gary McFarlane, a relationships counsellor from Bristol, was dismissed for gross misconduct by Relate after he expressed a possible conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to same sex couples.

Comment

Andrea Minichiello Williams, founder of the Christian Legal Centre, which is backing the cases, is a member of General Synod and was present for the debate. She said:

“For the past decade, our Parliament has moved away from Christian principles of law making which have served our nation so well. Modern law making is based on human rights theory espousing principles of equality and diversity. But there is no common agreement as to the source of the rights.

“If we cannot agree how rights arise or how they are conferred, it is difficult to agree what they should be.  There is no common basis for a discussion about the way in which rights should be applied, in particular in relation to how or where precedence should be given when rights conflict. Moreover in a secular society of every political hue it is the religious rights that are crushed.

“As Lord Denning used to say ‘Although, Christianity, law and morals can be separated, they are nevertheless, still very much dependent on one another. Without Christianity, there can be no morality, there can be no law.’

“This is in stark contrast to the recent judgment of Lord Justice Laws, who said in a recent judgement:

‘The promulgation of law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot therefore be justified; it is irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective, but it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary.’

“Equally as disturbing is the Government’s own submissions to the Strasbourg Court on these cases:

“On the wearing of a cross the Government said:

‘The applicants’ wearing of a visible cross was not a manifestation of their religion or belief. The applicants’ desire to wear a visible cross may have been inspired or motivated by a sincere religious commitment. It was not, however, a recognised religious practice or requirement of the Christian faith.’

“Perhaps the most concerning part of the Government’s submission in the cases going to Europe is this statement: ‘Where the individual in question is free to resign and seek employment elsewhere or practise their religion unfettered outside their employment, that is sufficient to guarantee their Article 9 rights in domestic law’.”

Andrea Williams added:

So, freedom of religion has become the freedom to quit your job.

“What we have, in effect, is a religious bar to office. This General Synod motion could not have been more timely and it has given a very clear sign/symbol of our intention, as Christians, to lead and speak in the public square and not to vacate it.”

Revd Trott concluded: “The General Synod has a unique role in English society as a legislative body empowered to pass Measures which are in effect Acts of Parliament. It also has the authority to speak for members of the Church of England, and should not be afraid to do so, both for their sake and for the sake of religious liberty as a whole.

“It certainly has the expertise and religious authority to state, for the avoidance of doubt in any court or tribunal, that the Christian faith, far from being a subjective and internal opinion, is founded objectively upon a body of Scripture which has been in existence for almost all of the history of the Church, and many of its books for very much longer. I am delighted that Synod passed my motion and that it will help Mr McFarlane and Mrs Chapman.”

Resources

Christian Concern: Religious Freedom
 

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