'Palm Cross' case is not about anti-Christian discrimination

LONDON & EDINBURGH, April 20, 2011: A Christian thinktank says that an electrician barred from displaying a cross in his van does not appear to be a victim of anti-Christian discrimination, since the rule in dispute does not single out any particular religion or belief.

Ekklesia has cautioned against a simplistic approach to such cases, which are being used to buttress campaigns suggesting that Christians face systemic discrimination in the UK.

Colin Atkinson faces disciplinary action from Wakefield District Housing (WDH) after refusing to remove a palm cross from the front of his vehicle.

Ekklesia has expressed the hope that all parties involved will attempt to resolve the case by mediation rather than confrontation, but has also questioned the interpretation being put on the incident by some - namely, that it amounts to hostility to Christianity.

The thinktank points out that the WDH ban applies to all religious symbols and other personal items. It says that while the rights and wrongs of such a prohibition can reasonably be debated and questioned, it cannot fairly be considered discrimination against Christians in particular. WDH allows Christians, as well as people of other faiths, to wear religious symbols on their persons or keep them on their desks.

Ekklesia says that repeated and unsubstantiated claims of anti-Christian discrimination only serve to make Christians appear defensive and obsessed with their own status.

Symon Hill, associate director of the thinktank, commented: "Wakefield District Housing allow employees to wear religious symbols but not to display symbols in vehicles. This rule may or may not be defensible, but it applies to everyone – not a particular faith group. There therefore appears to be no substance to claims that WHD are discriminating against Christians in particular.

“Cases like this are most likely to be resolved by mediation and dialogue, not by scaremongering and hysterical headlines. We have seen no evidence that Christians as a group face systematic discrimination in Britain - but the constant repetition of unfounded claims may be in danger of bringing Christianity into disrepute.

Mr Hill added: “It is also ironic that this case should be about a cross and should be raised in Holy Week – since the cross symbolises Jesus’ sacrificial death at the hands of political and religious authorities who wanted to suppress his nonviolent resistance to injustice. Properly understood, the cross is therefore a sign of self-giving love, not a justification for preoccupation with one's own status as a religious group.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from an engaged Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml

2. The rise of groups claiming persecution against Christians and reacting angrily to the demise of the social power of Christian institutions in an increasingly plural society was predicted in a 2005 book from Ekklesia, Faith and Politics After Christendom (Paternoster Press).

3. On the repeated claims from some quarters that Christians face discrimination or persecution in modern Britain, see: 'Shameful claims and alternative Christian living', by Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13679

4. For further comment: office AT ekklesia.co.uk