The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church and the Methodist Church in Britain have questioned whether the BNP should be allowed to stand as a party in the General Election.
The move follows a ruling that the British National Party has failed to comply with a court instruction to change its membership criteria.
Under the terms of the Race Relations Act, the BNP has been forced to change its whites-only membership policy, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission has argued that, despite this change, the constitution remains indirectly racist.
“If people want to make our laws, first of all they must comply with them. We would therefore question whether the BNP should be allowed to stand as a party in the General Election,” said Graham Sparkes, Head of Faith and Unity for the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
“Despite the changes to their membership criteria, the court has ruled that the BNP’s constitution remains discriminatory,” he added.
“As Christians, we have a duty to challenge the rhetoric of hatred championed by extremist parties such as the BNP,” continued Rachel Lampard, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church. “Every human being is created in the image of God and every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality.”
In addition to the discriminatory membership criteria, the Free Churches highlight three particular areas of concern with the BNP’s policies: the abolition of anti-discrimination laws; a halt on all new immigration, together with repatriation policies and plans to review all recent grants of residency or citizenship; and the
cutting of all international aid.
“We celebrate the fact that Britain is a multicultural society and that British aid can change and improve life for people around the world, such as those affected by the earthquake in Haiti,” said Simon Loveitt, Public Issues Spokesperson for the United Reformed Church.
But while Christians, alongside many civic campaigners, are overwhelmingly opposed to the racist culture and policies of the BNP, the notion that they might be banned from participating in elections will prove much more contentious.
"The determination of Britain's leading Free Churches to challenge the BNP’s rhetoric of prejudice and hatred is to be thoroughly welcomed," said Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which helped to expose an earlier BNP attempt to establish a Christian 'front' organisation, the so-called 'Christian Council of Britain'.
"However, the notion of banning or electorally disbarring political parties - even when what they stand for is repugnant - remains politically and morally counter-productive. The ideas, tactics and appeal of groups like the BNP need to be vigorously contested in grassroots communities, in local and national debate, and where appropriate (over public order and discrimination issues) legally. But prescriptions risk betraying the principles of justice and democracy they are meant to uphold. They push the problem underground, making it potentially more dangerous, and can be used in recruitment and propaganda by the groups concerned," said Barrow.
Ekklesia has also pointed out in the past that the reactionary "Christian nation" rhetoric employed by some within the churches has uncomfortable resonance with the rhetoric employed by the far-right (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/5161), and that the anti-migrant stance of the main political parties provides ballast to the fears that overt racists seek to feed.
"We need to look honestly at ourselves, not just point fingers at others," said Barrow. "In a mixed-belief and ethnically diverse society, the way to combat political xenophobia, hatred and prejudice is through cooperation, positive community action, celebration of diversity, combatting injustice and inequality, voting against the extremists, and rooting out the untruths that enable groups like the BNP to get a foothold.
"The churches have a vital role to play alongside others in working against the BNP and all they stand for. But prohibitions are not the answer. The BNP must be defeated politically, not disbarred.
"Of course, all parties standing for election are and should be required to abide by electoral law."
Also on Ekklesia: Is 'Christian nation' rhetoric aiding the far right?, by Jonathan Bartley - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/5161