Christians launch defence of faith 'under attack'

Lord Carey Lord Carey is concerned about the state of Britain's Christian culture

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Christians who believe their faith is "under attack" in Britain have launched a "Not Ashamed Day" campaign.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey claimed Christians of "deep faith" faced discrimination.

Campaigners say a mounting number of cases of workers being disciplined over their beliefs show Christianity is being "airbrushed" from UK society.

But the National Secular Society said "zealots" were wrong to claim the faith was being deliberately undermined.

The Not Ashamed Day, organised by the Christian Concern lobbying group, is the start of a campaign urging Christians to "wear their faith with pride".

'Under attack'

In recent years, Lord Carey said Christians had been penalised for activities such as wearing crosses and offering to pray for other people.

"Christianity is a public religion, always has been and always will be," he said as he launched the campaign outside the House of Lords.

"What we believe in is of paramount importance to our nation and were we to lose it, then I have no idea what will happen to the Christian faith in this country."

The former archbishop unveiled a leaflet warning that Britain's Christian culture was "under attack".

Their campaign highlights a series of cases involving Christians who have lost claims for discrimination.

They include Nadia Eweida - a British Airways worker from London - and Shirley Chaplin - an NHS nurse from Kenn, Exeter - who both lost high-profile discrimination claims over wearing crosses at work.

Case study

Lydia Playfoot, 19, from Horsham, West Sussex, was told by her school three years ago to remove her purity ring - symbolising chastity - or face expulsion.

She took her case to the High Court but it ruled that her human rights were not breached by the school's ban on jewellery.

Ms Playfoot said: "It's really important to stand up for what you believe in.

"Christianity is becoming more and more the minority because the country's culture is allowing it to be displayed less and less.

"But some aspects of the Christian church are increasing, with young people seeing that it's fun and about helping people.

"I'd encourage non-Christians to know that there's others out there, that they're not alone and that the Church is one big family."

And Gary McFarlane, a Christian marriage guidance counsellor from Bristol, lost a court bid earlier this year to challenge his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexuals.

His application to appeal was dismissed despite a call from Lord Carey for a specially-constituted panel of judges with a "proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues" to hear the case.

Mr McFarlane, 49, claimed Christians felt "intimidated" from talking about their faith publicly.

"The intimidation is pretty strong, they seek to muzzle me, and I do not any longer see a level playing field in our society," he said.

Olive Jones, a Christian supply teacher dismissed after offering to pray for a sick pupil, had also travelled to London for the launch of the campaign.

Airbrush

The 55-year-old, from Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset, said: "I am not ashamed of my faith and I passionately believe in Jesus.

"I believe that the things that we value in this country such as education and the NHS have their foundations in Christianity. Christians have fought hard to help others and the weaker people in the community."

In the leaflet, Lord Carey said the attempt to "airbrush" the Christian faith "out of the picture" was especially obvious as Christmas approaches.

He said: "The cards that used to carry Christmas wishes now bear 'Season's greetings'. The local school nativity play is watered down or disappears altogether.

Analysis

Lord Carey's intervention is significant, because he's a high-profile Anglican who many believe can bring the weight of influence to bear on subjects that bishops who are currently in office may not wish to, or may regard as "unsayable".

He's spoken out in the past saying that Christians are being victimised for their beliefs, but he's been challenged on this point, and not just by the National Secular Society for example, but also by some other Christians.

Jonathan Bartley, from the think tank Ekklesia, says that Lord Carey and Christian Concern are right to highlight the pride that people can feel in their faith, but wrong to claim that the faithful are being systematically bullied.

Mr Bartley says his group has found evidence that some of his fellow believers are instead deliberately misleading people. Lord Carey may also be hopeful of making a bigger impact as people's thoughts turn to Christmas.

"The local council switches on 'winter lights' in place of Christmas decorations. Even Christmas has become something of which some are ashamed."

Lord Carey, who retired as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, said hostility towards the religion came from a combination of "well-meaning" political correctness, multiculturalism and "overt opposition to Christianity".

"In spite of having contributed so much to our civilisation and providing its foundation, the Christian faith is in danger of being stealthily and subtly brushed aside," he added.

Christian Concern has also highlighted the fact that Catholic adoption agencies no longer have the right to refuse gay couples as prospective adoptive parents.

It urged Christians to wear crosses and items featuring the "Not Ashamed" logo to work on Wednesday.

However, Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said the initiative was the "culmination of the ongoing campaign run by a handful of Christian zealots to create the impression that Christianity is somehow being deliberately undermined by the authorities.

"Apparently 'multiculturalism', 'secularism' and 'political correctness' are seen as the culprits, but in reality people are walking away from Christianity because it has become unpleasant and authoritarian.

"Nobody is forcing them not to go to church, they simply don't see its relevance."

'Overly privileged'

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: "Time and again the various claims of discrimination against Christians that have been tested in the courts have been assessed by impartial judges and found baseless.

"Discrimination against non-Christians is in fact far more widespread than discrimination against Christians, and Christianity is still overly privileged in the UK.

"In almost one third of our state schools, preference is given to Christian parents in admissions over non-Christians, and to Christian staff over non-Christian staff."

The Christian think tank Ekklesia said that there was "no evidence" to back up the Not Ashamed campaign.

Co-Director Jonathan Batley said: "Since 2005, when we first predicted the growth in claims of 'persecution', we have been closely examining individual cases and what lies behind them [and] have found no evidence to back up the claim of the Not Ashamed campaign that Christians as a group are being systematically marginalised in Britain.

"We have found consistent evidence, however, of Christians misleading people and exaggerating what is really going on, as well as treating other Christians, those of other faith and those of no faith in discriminatory ways."

The Communities' Secretary, Eric Pickles, said: "This government values the role of religion, faith in public life and the part it can play in the big society.

"Councils shouldn't allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise the importance Christ's birth plays in Christmas. People all across the country delight in the Christmas lights and trees, carol services and nativity scenes that fill our high streets at this time of year."

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