UK Christians who faced disciplinary measures at work look to synod for support
By Peter Wooding
Europe Bureau Chief for ASSIST News Service
LONDON (ANS) – Christians in the United Kingdom who faced religious discrimination by employers and professional bodies for witnessing for their faith are to attend the Church of England’s General Synod in York this Sunday, urging the State Church’s Parliament to send a clear signal to the British Government that Christians should have the right to express their faith in the public square.
Reverend Stephen Trott
According to a Christian Concern press release nurse Caroline Petrie and
teacher Olive Jones will be in attendance to support a Private Member’s Motion and debate, led by General Synod member and canon lawyer, the Revd Stephen Trott, calling on the Church of England’s Bishops, Clergy and Laity to state that it is the ‘calling’ of Christians to witness publicly.
The press release went on to say that in a debate on the Manifestation of Faith in Public Life, which will take place at the York University Campus in Northern England, Revd Trott will move: “That this Synod express its conviction that it is the calling of Christians to order and govern our lives in accordance with the teaching of Holy Scripture, and to manifest our faith in public life as well as in private, giving expression to our beliefs in the written and spoken word, and in practical acts of service to the local community and to the nation.”
According to Christian Concern the Motion was signed by over 115 Synod members, causing the Business Committee to table the debate just 8 weeks before four British Christians take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights after the British Courts failed to uphold their right of freedom of religion under the Human Rights Act.
Revd Trott said: “There is a developing sense of being deliberately marginalised in the public sphere which in turn has an impact upon the lives and ministry of individual Christians. Open hostility to religious belief has gained considerable currency in the media, partly through the publishing success of opponents of religion such as Richard Dawkins, and a climate is being created in which naturally diffident Christians become even more reluctant to speak openly about their faith or to be guided publicly by its teaching.”
Revd Trott will tell Synod that the “silencing of Christian witness is being reinforced by over-zealous interpretation at all levels of human rights and equality legislation, in directives issued by the European Commission, in Parliament and in the courts, in policies developed by local councils and by employers.”
Examples of the marginalisation of Christianity to be shared will include:
● Attempts to ban prayer on public occasions, or to prohibit the display of the principal symbol of the Christian faith, the cross
● the demotion or sacking of employees who wish to wear the cross
● restricting or de-barring from membership of professional bodies if a professional fails to comply with HR policies which are intolerant of deeply held religious convictions
On September 4 in the European Court of Human Rights will hear appeals cases of religious discrimination against four British Christians.
Caroline Petrie, a nurse from Weston-super-Mare, who was suspended without pay for asking a patient whether she would like to be prayed for will be assisting Revd Trott with his motion and sitting on the platform at Synod. She will be assisted by Olive Jones, a supply teacher, dismissed on the spot from her role after offering to pray for a child and her family. Following intervention by the Christian Legal Centre, and extensive media coverage, Mrs Jones was offered a similar position by the council; however she had already found work elsewhere.
Revd Trott concluded: “The General Synod has a unique role in English society as a legislative body empowered to pass Measures which are in effect Acts of Parliament, in addition to Canon Law and other instruments. It has the authority to speak for members of the Church of England, and should not be afraid to do so, both for their sake and for the sake of religious liberty as a whole.
“It certainly has the expertise and religious authority to state, for the avoidance of doubt in any court or tribunal, that the Christian faith, far from being a subjective and internal opinion, is founded objectively upon a body of Scripture which has been in existence for almost all of the history of the Church, and many of its books for very much longer.
“The General Synod is also ideally placed to make a declaration of the kind envisaged in this Motion, for the support and encouragement of Christians in this country who may wrongly feel that they no longer have the right to manifest their faith, in the light of the growing pressure from society to privatise what they believe – to accept consciously or subconsciously that they have no right to be Christians outside the privacy of their own home, no right to read the scriptures in public or to bear witness to the teaching which they contain. Far from being silenced, we have a duty to strengthen one another in our public witness and in our ministry as the people of God.”