Evangelicals get Whitehall role

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Indy Politics

Evangelical Christians, including campaigners against gay bishops, are to get a central role in government policy-making under plans approved personally by Tony Blair.

Despite protestations by Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications, that "we don't do God", a new ministerial group has been created to inject religious ideas across Whitehall.

The Faith Community Liaison Group will be chaired by Fiona Mactaggart, the Home Office minister responsible for "civil renewal", and will have a wide remit.

One of the most important and controversial members of the new body is the Evangelical Alliance, a group which opposes homosexuality. The alliance warned last month that the appointment of Jeffrey John, a gay priest, as Bishop of Reading would have had "catastrophic consequences" for the Church of England. Dr John was forced to withdraw from the post.

The alliance also played a role in lobbying ministers to ensure that churches were exempt from new anti-homophobia legislation due to come into force later this year.

The working group will also includeJewish, Sikh, Muslim and Hindu representatives. It will have an input into controversial policy areas such as religious schools, which are allowed to select their pupils on the basis of their beliefs. Some of the schools have triggered controversy by teaching creationism in biology lessons but most are seen by the Prime Minister as offering excellent educational standards.

The new ministerial grouping will have an input across several areas of government. Although based in the Home Office, it will advise the Departments for Education; Culture, Media and Sport, and Trade and Industry.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said that the move was another example of "the Government's desire to favour and privilege religious organisations".