Claims that Christians are being 'discriminated against' by human rights and equality legislation in the UK have been strongly criticised by the Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association (BHA).
The two organisations have spoken out jointly after socially conservative group 'Christian Concern' (formerly Christian Concern For Our Nation) launched a petition claiming that people with 'mainstream Christian' beliefs are being barred by equalities legislation 'from different areas of public life and employment'.
The petition was launched following the latest in a string of failed court cases pursued by the Christian Legal Centre, which has strong links to Christian Concern.
In December 2010, Ekklesia, the BHA, the European Humanist Federation (EHF) and other religious and non-religious groups described Christian Concern's 'Not Ashamed' campaign, which made similar claims, as "misleading and having no evidence to support them".
Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, said: "The judgement in the recent Johns foster case was very clear. It described claims of anti-religious discrimination as a 'travesty of the reality' and 'wrong as to the factual premises on which they are based.' The judges added that 'No one is seeking to de-legitimise Christianity or any other faith or belief. ... No one is seeking to give Christians, Jews or Muslims or, indeed, peoples of any faith, a second class status. On the contrary, it is fundamental to our law, to our polity and to our way of life, that everyone is equal.'
"It is this equality which some vociferous campaign groups are disputing. They want a privileged status in law for their own particular prejudices, using arguments which many other Christians find misplaced, misguided and offensive. Far from 'defending Christianity', petitions like this bring it into disrepute," added Barrow.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: "This petition is the latest in a series of increasingly desperate attempts to create a victim narrative about 'Christianophobia'. But these claims have no basis in reality. What they describe as discrimination and marginalisation of Christians is in fact the proper upholding of human rights and equalities law and principles - a law which protects religious people from unjustified and illegitimate discrimination in exactly the same way as it protects people on other grounds like race and sexual orientation.
He continued: "It is very important to be vigilant over claims that mask prejudice with false claims about oppression. There is no evidence of discrimination against Christians, only evidence of a persecution complex from those perpetuating the myth of 'Christianophobia'. We must be robust in our response to an ideology that, in reality, would limit religious and other freedoms for most people, while permitting wide discrimination by a small number of narrow-minded persons against others."
The British Humanist Association is the largest national charity representing and supporting the interests of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK.
Founded in 2001, Ekklesia is a think-tank examining politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective.