Lord Carey: Prime Minister has failed to be true to his word to Christians
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has criticised David Cameron for going back on his promise to defend the right of Christians to wear the cross at work.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister said at a Downing Street reception that the nation needed Christian values and that he supported the right of Christians to wear a cross at work as a manifestation of their faith.
He told the House of Commons in July that the right to wear the cross was an "absolute freedom" and promised to amend legislation to “make clear that people can wear religious symbols at work”.
However, the Government has refused to back four Christians who were penalised for expressing their faith in the workplace, and whose cases are being heard at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) today (4 September).
Two of the cases are being handled by the Christian Legal Centre.
Shirley Chaplin, a nurse from Devon,was removed from front line nursing after 38 years for wanting to wear the cross at work.
Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor from Bristol, was sacked after he expressed a possible conscientious objection, during a training session, to giving sex therapy to homosexual couples.
In its submission to the ECHR the Government claimed that Mrs Chaplin and Mr McFarlane had not been discriminated against.
In Mrs Chaplin’s case, it argued that wearing a cross was not “a generally recognised form of practising the Christian faith.”
In Mr McFarlane’s, the Government argued that his freedom to resign and seek employment elsewhere “guaranteed freedom of religion” for him.
Lord Carey criticised the Prime Minister for failing to align the Government’s submissions with his own statement in support of the Christian faith:
“David Cameron has turned the value of ‘tolerance’ on its head.
“Only two months ago he championed the right of Christians to wear crosses.
“Yet at the same time he was making that statement, his lawyers were drafting a legal submission to Strasbourg which opposes the rights of all these Christians. These lawyers are expected to speak against the right to wear the cross at court today, saying that the Christian faith doesn’t demand it, and that it is up to the individual concerned.
“Likewise, Government lawyers will also say that it is not necessary for Christians to demonstrate disapproval of gay relationships in order to maintain their faith. We have to question, then, whether Cameron’s initial words of support mean anything at all.
“Sadly, the Government has passed up its opportunity to support the right of Christians to express their faith and have a reasonable accommodation in the law for freedom of conscience.
“It is now down to the European Court. In these cases, Christians are not seeking special rights but merely trying to overturn unfair verdicts which create a hierarchy of rights in which Christians are at the bottom of the pile.”
In a direct submission to the ECHR, Lord Carey argued further that Christians were being increasingly “vilified” and “driven underground” by the tendency of UK courts to apply "equality law to discriminate against Christians.”
He said that the failure of Judges to protect the religious freedom of Christians in “case after case” demonstrated a “crude” misunderstanding of the faith which has led to believers being treated as “bigots.”
Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and founder of the Christian Legal Centre said:
“The Government’s double-standards in their handling of these four cases has been astonishing.
“The Prime Minister has been asked, repeatedly, to intervene in these cases and back the four Christians who have served the public through their varied professions.
“The Prime Minster has been asked to back up the statements he has made in public by concrete actions that would make a difference not just to the four Christians who bring their cases to the European Court but to Christians everywhere. He has failed dismally."