By Hilary White

LONDON, December 22, 2009 ( – Christians in the U.K. are continuing to warn that the government’s planned “equality” legislation will drive Christian believers out of public life. The Christian Institute, Britain’s leading evangelical Christian lobby group, has issued a report titled “Marginalising Christians,” detailing the many recent cases of Christians who have been disciplined or lost work because of conflicts between faith and the government-sponsored and increasingly aggressive secularism.

The government’s recent equality and diversity laws, the group says, leave Christians “the first to be punished and the last to be protected.”

The report cites a poll taken in January 2009 that found that 84 per cent of Britons felt that freedoms of religion and of speech are at risk in the UK.

The report said that this “growing sense of intolerance felt by Christians is made all the worse when they face hostility in the name of ‘equality and diversity’.”

“Christians wonder why they are not being treated equally and why diversity does not include them. They feel that a hierarchy of rights has sprung up which leaves them bottom of the pile. This has led to a growing feeling that ‘equality and diversity’ is code for marginalising Christian beliefs.”

George Pitcher wrote Monday in The Daily Telegraph that the Labour government’s Equality bill, currently working through the House of Lords, was being used by “parliamentary secularists to drive religion from the public sphere.”

“Any issue will serve as a means for secularists to marginalise believers. You could call that discriminatory, but to do it under the banner of equality is peculiarly hypocritical,” wrote Pitcher, a liberal Anglican minister and religion editor for the Telegraph.

There is, he said, “a delicious irony in equality being thrust upon the household of faith.”

His comments followed those by Michael Foster, Labour’s minister for equality in which he admitted that the bill could lead to legal battles between religions and homosexualist activists. Churches and atheists, he said, “need to be lining up [their lawyers] by now.”

“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.

“Government is used to the fact that its legislation should be challenged [in the courts]. People feel very strongly about these issues. We can’t do anything about this and we wouldn’t want to.”

Catholic bishops are among the religious groups that have warned that the bill will lead to serious conflicts between the Church and the state. They have said that it will be used as a bludgeon to force the acceptance of married men, women and active homosexuals to the priesthood.

Baroness O'Cathain, an Evangelical Christian, told the Lords that the Equality bill is the “single most damaging Bill [for Christian freedom] to come before the House in my 18 years as a Member.”

Meanwhile, the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey shows 50 per cent of people say they are Christians, down from 66 per cent in 1983. The Survey said that the proportion of Britons who say they have “no religion” has increased from 31 per cent to 43 per cent.

Only 23 per cent of those surveyed described themselves as Anglican today, in comparison to 40 percent of the population in 1983. Among those describing themselves as Anglican, half said they never attended church at all and less than one fifth said they attended church once a month.