By JR on Monday, July 04, 2011
New equality laws are forcing religious people to flee the country because they are being denied the freedom to live in accordance with their beliefs, the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, has warned.
The Orthodox Jewish leader claimed that anti-discrimination policies had fuelled an “erosion of religious liberty" in Britain that was leading to a new “Mayflower”, a reference to the flight of the persecuted Pilgrim Fathers to America in the 17th century.
His comments follow growing alarm from leading religious figures over the increasing influence of equality laws. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has called on the Prime Minister to review equality legislation amid concerns that religious freedoms and Britain’s Christian heritage are under threat.
Speaking to the House of Commons public administration select committee, Lord Sacks said there was "no doubt'' numbers of religious believers in Britain were "extraordinarily'' low.
He continued: “I share a real concern that the attempt to impose the current prevailing template of equality and discrimination on religious organisations is an erosion of religious liberty. “We are beginning to move back to where we came in in the 17th century - a whole lot of people on the Mayflower leaving to find religious freedom elsewhere.”
The Pilgrim Fathers sailed on the Mayflower from Plymouth to America in 1620 to escape religious intolerance in England.
Charles Wookey, the assistant general secretary of the Catholic bishops conference of England and Wales, told the MPs that religious organisations were struggling with “rapid social change”. This meant they were forced to alter practices that had been in place for many years, he said.
Recent months have seen a series of clashes of rights reach the courts as a result of equality legislation which was introduced under Labour and designed to prevent discrimination on the grounds of religion or sexuality.
Roman Catholic adoption agencies have closed because they cannot reconcile the requirements under the new laws with their belief that children should not be placed with gay couples.
In March, Owen and Eunice Johns, a Christian couple from Derby, were defeated in the High Court when they sought to overturn a ban on becoming foster carers which was imposed because their traditional beliefs meant they could never tell a child that homosexuality was acceptable.
In May, Margaret Forrester, a Catholic mental health worker, was sacked after a long disciplinary process which was launched because she shared a pro-Life booklet with a colleague.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, welcomed Lord Sacks’ remarks. “There has been a significant curtailing of religious freedom in this nation, due to the 'equalities' culture and the imposition of political correctness on the public,” she said. “These days, you can lose your job if you have 'incorrect' views. At the Christian Legal Centre we have 50 cases and have seen a number of Christians sacked or disciplined because of their beliefs.
“We were a nation admired the world over. Now people look at us in astonishment unable to believe that we have let such heritage slip so quickly and dramatically.”
However, secular campaigners described Lord Sacks’s comments as “fatuous in the extreme”. Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, called on the Chief Rabbi to withdraw his “foolish” statement and apologise for suggesting that his religion is not allowed to flourish in Britain. “If by religious freedom the Chief Rabbi means religious privilege, it is clear that he would be happier in some kind of theocracy,” he said.
“Rather than fleeing this country, he should thank his God that he lives here and knows that he and his people are safe and free to practice their religion within the law. “The equality laws that he disparages are a wonderful achievement and something that most people – including many Jews - welcome as progressive, just and long overdue.”