A campaign launching today which says Christians have been pushed aside in public life and are discriminated against in the UK has been criticised by humanists and Christians as misleading.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia are among those contesting the claims of the ‘Not Ashamed’ campaign, which has been organised by the socially conservative group ‘Christian Concern’ (formerly Christian Concern For Our Nation) and is supported by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and by Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, former Bishop of Rochester.
Andrew Copson, the BHA Chief Executive, said: "The increasingly desperate attempts to work up a victim narrative of 'Christianophobia' by these activists have no basis in reality. Time and again the various claims of discrimination against Christians that have been tested in the courts have been assessed by impartial judges and found baseless.
"The narrative [behind these claims] calls for increased religious liberty, but the demands would actually limit religious and other freedom for most people, through permitting wide discrimination by Christians against others", he added.
"Discrimination against non-Christians is in fact far more widespread than discrimination against Christians, and Christianity is still overly privileged in the UK. In almost one third of our state schools, preference is given to Christian parents in admissions over non-Christians, and to Christian staff over non-Christian staff," said Mr Copson.
Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, whose 2006 book Faith and Politics After Christendom predicted the rise of an aggressive response to the demise of 'Christian Britain' ideology, commented: "Christians should not be ashamed of our faith but nor should they be afraid to listen to others and learn from them. What they should be ashamed of, however, is the reputation that they are developing for exaggeration, misleading people and discriminating against others."
He added: "Since 2005, when we first predicted the growth in claims of 'persecution', we have been closely examining individual cases and what lies behind them. We have found no evidence to back up the claim of the 'Not Ashamed' campaign that Christians as a group are being systematically marginalised in Britain. We have found consistent evidence, however, of some Christians misleading people and exaggerating what is really going on, as well as treating other Christians, those of other faith and those of no faith, in discriminatory ways."
On 30 November, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, Anglican Bishop of Croydon, also criticised the notion that Christians in Britain might be 'the new persecuted', urging church people to develop a positive profile in public life rather than becoming part of a 'hierarchy of victimhood'.
Meanwhile, the European Humanist Federation (EHF) has accused the campaign of trivialising the concept of persecution. EHF President David Pollock commented: "We are lucky in Britain to have freedom of conscience, thought and belief. In many other places across the world, Christians, Muslims, humanists and human beings of many different religious and non-religious beliefs are really persecuted, losing their lives for their convictions. Campaigns like the one that is launching today trivialises their suffering."
Also on Ekklesia:
'Bishop rejects "Christians in Britain are persecuted" claims' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13680
Shameful claims and alternative Christian living', by Simon Barrow - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13679
'Why Christians should be ashamed on World AIDS Day', by Jonathan Bartley - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13668
'The Westminster Declaration: a considered critique', by Savitri Hensman - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12060
'A level playing-field for British Christians', by Symon Hill - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12853