Christians feel that they are being forced to hide their religion because of “silly” interpretations of equality laws, a senior MP has said.
Sir Alan Beith, the former deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats and chair of the Commons Justice Select Committee, has likened the misunderstandings to those surrounding health and safety regulation, where the rules can be overzealously applied for the wrong reasons.
Referring to recent high profile cases involving people being told not to wear religious symbols in the workplace, Sir Alan said that many Christians feel that they have to keep their faith “under wraps”.
But rather than being an issue of the law, the 70-year-old MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that an ill-informed sense of what it means for the state to be secular often led officials to try and hide anything relating to religious views while in “civil society”.
Sir Alan is the longest-serving Lib Dem since David Lloyd George, and has announced that he will step down at the next general election. He is also a Methodist lay preacher, and runs a group known as the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum.
Speaking at the party’s conference in Glasgow, where he is also launching a book of essays called Liberal Democrats Do God, Sir Alan said: “I think that what a lot of people feel now is that they are being asked to hide their religion, that secularism requires not wearing religious symbols.
“I think that what has arisen is that people feeling that not only does the State have to separate itself from religion under secularism, but they are being asked really to hide and keep under wraps their religious views in civil society.
“Sometimes the completely false interpretation of laws, regulations and changes leads to that happening, when it wasn't even the intention in the first place - a bit like health and safety. You get silly things happening, which were not the intention of any legislative change.”
The MP's comments come after the case of Nadia Eweida, a British Airways check-in attendant who was sent home from work for wearing a crucifix.
In January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld her complaint, ruling that the 60-year-old's religious rights had been violated by the airline.
The ECHR has ruled that Ms Eweida, a Coptic Christian, was discriminated against under freedom of religion laws.