By Hilary White

LONDON, January 7, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – One of the Church of England’s most prominent churchmen has said that under Labour’s proposed Equality Bill, he would fail to meet a government definition of clergy for purposes of protection against anti-discrimination lawsuits.

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, told the House of Lords during a debate on the bill, “The movers of the bill may be of the view that archbishops and other clergy work only on Sundays, but if one looks at my diary, you will find that most of my days and evenings are not filled with preaching or taking services.”

“The same would go for most clergy and ministers and, I am sure, for leaders within other religious communities as well. The exemption is flawed,” he added.

Wording in the bill includes a definition of the phrase “for the purposes of organised religion,” saying the exemption from employment discrimination law applies only when “the employment wholly or mainly in-volves (a) leading or assisting in the observation of liturgical or ritualistic practices of the religion, or (b) pro-mo-ting or explaining the doctrine of the religion (whether to followers of the religion or to others).”

The Labour government has claimed that the bill does nothing more than consolidate existing legislation and regulations. Last month, Michael Foster, Labour's minister for Equality admitted, however, that passage of the Equality bill could lead to a flurry of legal actions against Christians who retain the traditional beliefs and practices of their faith.

Foster criticized churches for failing to adequately defend their position, saying, “The secularists should have the right to challenge the Church and if the Church’s argument is good enough – which I believe it is – then the Church should win through.”

Neil Addison, a barrister and expert in religious discrimination law, told the Catholic Herald newspaper that it was “completely misleading and untrue” for the Government to claim that the Equality bill simply consolidates existing law.

“It is not, it is changing it,” he said. “The trouble is that the Government is passing vague legislation and then saying ‘well, the courts will sort it out’,” he added.

The UK’s Catholic bishops have already warned that under the bill they could face legal action to attempt to force the ordination of women and active homosexuals and the “transgendered” to the priesthood, a result that would effectively force Catholicism underground in Britain. In a submission to the House of Lords before Christmas, they warned that the bill would leave them unable to prevent priests from having “gender reassignment” operations or engage in sexual activities.

In an Op-ed in the Daily Telegraph on Boxing Day, Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican bishop of Rochester, cited some of the many cases in which Christians have already suffered anti-religious actions by public officials and employers.

He wrote, “Nurses have been told not to pray with their patients; registrars ordered to conduct civil partnership ceremonies in spite of conscientious objections; evangelists forbidden to spread the word in ‘Muslim’ areas; and permission for Good Friday processions refused on the grounds that they are a ‘minority’ interest and do not warrant police time.”

Paradoxically, while his government is being criticized by Christian leadership for its efforts to quash religious freedom, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called on Christians to stand up for their beliefs in public life.

In a video released in the lead-up to this year’s general election, Brown said, “I don’t subscribe to the view that religion should somehow be tolerated but not encouraged in public life, that you can somehow ask people to leave their faith at the door when they enter a town hall or a Commons chamber.”

Brown cited “debt cancellation,” child poverty and environmentalism as the issues on which Christian churches and charities have acted as “Britain’s conscience.” Brown said, “The lessons of the Gospels need not be kept separate from political life.”

“If Christians engage in politics then all of us together can build a society where wealth helps more than the wealthy, good fortune serves more than the fortunate, and riches enrich not just some of us but all.”

Under Brown’s leadership, Labour has introduced the Children, Schools and Families Bill which seeks to make sex and relationship education compulsory from the age of five and makes it illegal for parents to remove their children from the lessons. Last year the government attempted to quash free speech protection in their “gay hate” law in the Coroners and Justice Bill.

A January 2009 poll showed that more than four out of five churchgoers (84 per cent) think that religious freedoms, of speech and action, are at risk in the UK. The same poll found that 82 per cent believe it is becoming more difficult to live as a Christian in increasingly secular Britain.


Read related LSN coverage:

U.K. Church Could Face Prosecution for Refusing to Ordain Women, Homosexuals: Bishops

British Churches to be Forced to Hire Active Homosexual Youth Workers under Equality Bill 

Critics Charge U.K. Equality Bill is About "Ideological Coercion" and Will "Reintroduce Discrimination into the Workplace"