Christians forced to hide their faith by equality laws, says senior Liberal Democrat MP

Britain's longest-serving current Lib Dem, Sir Alan Beith, says 'silly things' happen because people don't understand principles of secularism

Adam Withnall
Sunday 15 September 2013 18:15
Comments

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.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in