Freedom under attack in Britain? 1 July, 2009

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‘God and my right’

Barrister Neil Addison published an excellent piece in the UK’s Catholic Herald on 13 July under the title RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IS UNDER ATTACK IN BRITAIN. In fact the headline is slightly misleading. Addison says, ‘I do not consider that we are in an era of anti-Christian persecution. Indeed, to suggest that we are demeans the word “persecution” and those many Christians who are suffering real persecution to the point of death.’  But, he continues,

‘What we are in is an era of increasing government interference and regulation of what used to be regarded as private life and an increasing intolerance of those who disagree. We are in an increasingly authoritarian society and the Church is always the first victim of authoritarianism because the Church exists as an organisation that is, or should be, independent of the state, and which has a basis for its motivation and thinking which is independent of the state.’

And he writes:

‘When we look at our current controversy over MPs’ expenses the constant refrain that is coming back from so many MPs is that what they did was “in accordance with the rules”. But what is missing in this response is that they never considered whether what they were doing was morally right or wrong and that, I suggest, epitomises a broader problem in our society. We are not showing respect for conscience and the desire not to do that which is morally wrong because we are no longer acknowledging the importance of morality itself and are instead fixated on mere legalism and rules.

‘As a lawyer I am constantly dealing with the efforts of government to legislate on everything and the consequence is that politicians are infantalising us as a society by removing our ability to think in moral terms. The result is that we have more criminal legislation than ever before and more crime, more financial regulation and more fraud, more interference by government officials in all aspects of life and more government failure and incompetence….

‘The new Equality Bill currently before Parliament epitomises this tendency. Nearly every form of discrimination is banned even for private associations and churches. Or, to put it another way, they are to lose the right to choose. Churches are to be banned from preferring Christians in their employment practices except in the employment of priests or religious teachers. They are not going to insist that employees live in accordance with the ideals or principles of the Church, and any employment or membership decision they take can be questioned and investigated by an unelected quango, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.’

Addison points out the inconsistency at the heart of this agenda:

‘The Labour Party would not employ a member of the BNP in any capacity; the Conservative Party would not employ a card-carrying Communist. Why, then, should the churches be obliged to employ people whose religion or lifestyle is incompatible with the beliefs or principles of that church ? I do not believe that political parties should be obliged to employ people whose political beliefs or activities are incompatible with their own. Political parties are entitled to preserve and defend their distinctive identity. I just make the point that religious organisations should be entitled to the same freedom to preserve their identity.

‘As the Government’s proposals stand I, as a Catholic, would be entitled to apply for the post of general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain and to sue if I was not appointed. And a member of the National Secular Society would be entitled to apply for the post of general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. It is lunacy – and more than lunacy, it is dangerous to freedom and democracy, because democracy requires not just individual freedom but also freedom of association.

‘We need to defend the principle of civil society in which associations and organisations, as well as individuals, have rights and are allowed the freedom to preserve their distinctive nature and contribution to society as a whole. It is no coincidence that the first thing that any totalitarian state does is to regulate and control association, organisations and churches. We need to be alert to this danger and we need to defend the rights of churches and other organisations, not simply in order to defend religious freedom but in order preserve freedom itself.’

The catastrophic decline of religious belief in Britain and indeed a belief in any kind of objective system of values is surveyed in a useful article from the Zenit news service here. Clearly, the ‘new evangelization’ which Pope John Paul II called for has been completely ineffective, if it has even begun. Christian apologetics has reached only a tiny minority, and in general serves only to make those who already believe feel more secure in their faith. This makes it ever more urgent for Christians to understand the reasons why most types of evangelization are ineffective – in other words, to understand the nature of the culture in which we live, and the unconscious assumptions that we often fail to recognize and challenge. In that understanding we will find the secret of true and effective evangelization.

Statement on this theme by Bishop Peter Smith here.