Commenting on a case in Somerset where a nurse has been suspended for offering to pray for a patient who appears not to have wanted this, Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, said: "One hopes that an issue like this might be resolved in the joint interests of patients, carers, institution and staff without turning it into a huge legal and political issue. But this incident clearly illustrates the 'culture clash' that can emerge in our public institutions as the Christian faith loses its predominance within a society that has previously been shaped by its story."
He continued: "With the demise of Christendom, people who do not believe in a particular way often find the presumption that they should or might do so troublesome. On the other hand, Christians who have been used to different implicit 'ground rules' feel that their identity is being eroded by the requirement to maintain a clearer boundary between what they might do in a voluntary capacity (including praying for people), and the culture of restraint being developed in publicly-funded bodies where people of no faith and other faith may see things very differently.
"This is something that needs much more debate and constructive discussion. There is a tendency for disputes of this kind fairly rapidly to descend into confrontation.
"One can almost predict that some campaigners will try to turn this into another case of 'Christians being persecuted', while others will say it is about 'Christians trying to force their beliefs on people at the taxpayers' expense'. That kind of row gets nowhere. Instead we need to look at adjusting to change and redefining roles."