Brent Borough Council has denied claims that it is discriminating against Christians by not closing a road for a Good Friday parade. The council explained that the churches involved in the parade had not submitted their application in time.
A priest in the area has suggested that the council would have behaved differently if those involved in the parade were Muslim or gay, but critics have pointed out that there is no evidence to back this up.
The march in Willesden has been planned to include members of a number of local churches on Good Friday (22 April). They include Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics.
Brent Council explained that they would be happy to facilitate an Easter parade, as they are to permit the celebration of other religious and cultural festivals. But they said that the churches did not contact them until a week ago.
"There is a strict legal procedure we have to follow to issue a traffic order closing roads so people can march in the highway, which includes advertising and consultation, and this takes about five weeks," said a Brent Borough Council spokesperson, "We are very sorry to say there is now not enough time for us to legally facilitate this march".
It is understood that the churches' failure to apply in time may be due to confusion resulting from a change in the legal procedures for registering the parade.
Despite this, Father Huge Mackenzie of St Mary's Magdalen's Roman Catholic Church accused the council of not respecting the rights of Christians.
He told the Daily Mail, "One does wonder whether if it was a homosexual rights or Islamic group the council would have been more flexible, as it doesn’t seem like rocket science to permit us to walk 400 metres".
Critics point out that he does not appear to have any evidence to substantiate this claim. But Hugh Mackenzie insisted that "the rights of Christians [in Britain] are being overlooked in favour of the rights of Islamic groups and gay rights organisations".
The incident was described by Symon Hill, associate director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, as "another case of talking up mistreatment where none exists".
"Brent Council's rules about advance notice may or may not be sensible," he said, "But there is no evidence to suggest that these rules are being applied differently because the group concerned happen to be Christians. There therefore appears to be no substance to claims that a Muslim group or a gay rights march would be treated differently.
Hill added, "Equally, snide comments about Muslims and gay people do no service to Christians or to anyone else. People of differing beliefs, both religious and non-religious, need to learn to negotiate rather than recriminate, mediate rather than litigate, in the public sphere."
The controversy marks the latest in a string of claims that Christianity is being marginalised in Britain. Both Christian and non-Christian critics say that the evidence for these claims tends to fall apart when examined in any detail.
"There is no evidence that Christians as a group face deliberate, organised discrimination in Britain," said Symon Hill, "Becoming obsessed or over-anxious about their own privilege and status undermines the Christian message, and is likely to create counter-resentment. The real issue is how Christians can behave positively within, and towards, a wider social order that no longer automatically privileges them, because the majority are not practising Christians".