This week’s news and links: Christians at court and a reshuffle of values

I don’t think there’s been a day like yesterday for quite a while.  We’ve had the four ‘Christian discrimination’ cases kicking off at the European Court of Human Rights, the first reshuffle of this Government and also today is the last day of submissions for the Government’s online protection of children consultation.  Twitter went a bit wild with a barrage of articles and posts on all of these subjects.

Rather than trying to add to all the noise, I’ve picked out some of the articles I’ve found interesting or informative and I’ll try to pull them together with a few comments.  Hopefully you’ll be able to find something of interest from it all.

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The cabinet reshuffle has stoked up plenty of controversy for various reasons and that includes some of the new minister’s views and beliefs.  I’m not talking about religious belief so much, but instead opinions on such things as abortion, gay rights and homeopathy.  Also somewhat surprisingly, Baroness Warsi having been dropped from her post as chair of the Conservative Party now gets to talk about faith a lot more in her new role as Minister for Faith and Communities, which is a brand new position.

There’s not been much Christian comment that I’ve found on this yet but some of those in the secularist/atheist corner are clearly upset.  New Humanist Magazine is worried that the government is out to suppress the secularist agenda.  Heresy Corner takes a long look and Baroness Warsi and her new job and brings some incisive thoughts to the table, most of which I have to agree with.

To add to this New Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s previous off-the-record comments have been dug up again as have the views of new Culture and Equalities Minister, Maria Miller’s voting history.

It looks like the appointment of new ministers with more ‘traditional’ values is causing some nerves in secularist corners, but I sincerely hope we won’t get some Christians and others taking opportunistic pot shots at them.  That will just put people’s backs up and more likely than not further confirm to many that Christians are obsessed with pro-life and gay-issues and anything to do with sex.  We really don’t need to exacerbate the religious/secular divide any further.

Having Ministers who apparently want to uphold some Christian principles should be welcomed, but the proof is in the policy pudding, so I’ll wait patiently before I draw any firm conclusions on who will benefit from a faith/belief perspective as a result of these ministerial changes, but I do think these appointments will affect the Government’s approach to some equalities and faith issues.

Aid agencies now have Justine Greening as the new Secretary of State at the Department for International Development.  Rosanne White, Tearfund’s Parliamentary Officer looks forward and back to examine what the changes could mean for aid and international development.

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So at last the landmark freedom of religion cases brought by Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Gary McFarlane and Lilian Ladele have kicked off at the European Court of Human Rights.   I’ve previously profiled the cases of these four British Christians in an earlier post.  Don’t get excited just yet as it’s all going to last for a few months before we get any judgements.  However the Telegraph has given a good round-up of where they are at as of now.  Having spent a lot of time looking at all four cases, it’s become clear that they are all complicated, having issues that work both for and against the individuals bringing them.  Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali who is supporting the cases at the court in Strasbourg gave an interview yesterday on Radio 4’s today programme that helps to provide some clarity to the arguments.  Some of the cases appear stronger than others and would appear to have a better chance of succeeding, but at the same time there is a good chance they could all lose.

I’m torn on these cases.  All four involve a level of discrimination but none focus on the freedom to believe.  Instead it comes down to how much accommodation employers should be made to give to individual employees in respect of their individual beliefs and where lines should and shouldn’t be drawn.  And that’s a very difficult question to answer.

Ben Whitnall on the Bible Society’s blog turns all of this around and asks what the Bible says about the issue of ‘religious freedom’ to wear a cross.  It’s a great piece that reminds us to make sure we have a biblical perspective on how we live as Christians.  Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in issues of rights, discrimination and equalities that we lose sight of how God wants us to live Christian lives in public places and bring His kingdom into them.

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Finally, more than 110,000 people have sign the SafetyNet petition demanding internet companies block access to hardcore pornography as a default setting to protect children.  The Government’s consultation period on this will draw to a close today and on Thursday the petition will be handed to the Government.  You can read more about this here.  John Sentamu added his support to the petition this week warning of the ‘harm’ the loss of innocence is having on young people’s mental health.

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It’s easy the forget the need to pray about what we see going on in the world around us.  If we forget that God is active in our world and able to intervene, then we can easily lose perspective on the place of Christianity in society.  Certainly there are battles that go with believing, but if the battles become our primary focus then we’re in danger of forgetting that God doesn’t call us to fight.  He calls us instead to be holy, live in peace and follow Him.



Categories: Faith in society, Government, Sex & pornography

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6 replies

  1. I don’t quite understand the SafetyNet petition. Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of parents to block ALL forms of pornography online so that their children can’t view it? Parents have been putting filters on their internet at home to protect their kids in the US for at least 15 years. Why can’t they do that in the UK?

  2. I think the new role of Minister for faith and communities possibly comes off the back of the Westminster faith debates where it was generally felt that there is a lot of social capital to be had in embracing faith groups. The government want to tap into the church infrastructure to further the big society agenda. I can understand why secular groups might be fearful of such a department in conferring special rights for faith groups but i would be very surprised if that were its purpose. I have said many times here that there should be space for individuals to exercise conscience as long as services are provided for all people but Ben Whitnalls excellent piece reminds us of what is really important.

    • I am pleased to see the new role of Faith and Communities Minister, but it is a very broad area to cover. Potentially it is a chance for government to listen to and work with faith groups to encourage and support the work they do in their communities. The Government needs to build these bridges, as the level of religious illiteracy is seen is being far to high in Government, the Civil Service and other public bodies. Faith groups appear to often feel that they are ignored by government, not taken seriously and marginalised, some. It’s not about religious privilege, which we don’t need to be looking for, but instead the important role faith groups play in a functioning society.

      The danger is that the role becomes too watered down trying to listen to too many people with competing views making it worthless or even causing more harm than good.

  3. One of the things that came over loud and clear in the faith debates was the value afforded by government to what faith groups DO in society. Having this role at least flags up that faith is seen as important rather than the previous message of ”not doing God”

  4. I agree. When a government talks about the value of faith, even if the details are hazy, it shows that they at least they have an interest in it. The previous government’s refusal to engage with faith issues was a serious failing.