Cross to bear? UK denies Christians right to wear crucifix *M.Brotherhood consolidates power;Presidency next?
The case was initiated by two British women Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, after they were punished for refusing to take off their religious symbols.
Nadia Ewedia is a British Airways employee, who was asked to cover her cross while at work, and was placed on unpaid leave when she refused to do so. Shirley Chaplin is a nurse moved to a desk position after she refused to remove a crucifix.
The women claim they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing a cross and crucifix respectively.
The government position is that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore employers can ban the wearing of the cross at work.
The case has been taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which is to decide on whether the right to wear a cross is protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Article 9 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
Eweida and Chaplin claim banning the cross and crucifix at work violates their human right to manifest their religion.
But the authorities insist that since wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” it does not fall under the remit of Article 9.
Lawyers for the two women say “manifesting” religion includes doing things that are not a “requirement of the faith”, and that they are therefore protected by human rights.
The case has stirred up British society. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, accused authorities of “dictating” to Christians, saying it was another example of Christianity becoming sidelined.
Many say the government’s position in this case is largely shaped by the British Roman Catholic Church’s attacks on the government’s plan to legalize same-sex marriage.
The plans were announced by conservatives during the parliamentary elections of 2010.
The country’s PM David Cameron himself spoke in favor of ending the ban on same-sex marriage at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2011. People should embrace same-sex marriage because of their conservatism and their commitment to family values and not in spite of it, Cameron said.
M. Brotherhood consolidates power; Presidency next?
Egypt, March 12, 2012: The Muslim Brotherhood further solidified its power last week by securing the position of speaker in Egypt’s upper house of parliament. The appointment consolidates the Brotherhood’s control over the country’s legislature leading up to presidential elections in May. Already the dominate player in Egypt’s political landscape, liberals fear that the Brotherhood may now be emboldened to field a contender for the presidency despite the Brotherhood’s previous assurances to not back a candidate.
Until now, the Brotherhood has carefully campaigned as a pragmatic political party by concentrating on economic and political reform and by vowing to protect the freedoms of all Egyptians, including minorities. Amr Darrag, the head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Giza, told The Media Line, “Christians were part of the revolution and they deserve equal status under the law and the future Egyptian democratic process… We do not differentiate between Christians and Muslims, we are all Egyptians.” By directing public attention to issues such as land ownership reform and free elections, the Brotherhood has strived to portray itself as an entity with primarily political rather than theocratic goals.
On February 28, Ahmed Fahmy, of the FJP, was elected speaker by members of the Shura Council during the chamber’s inaugural session. The appointment follows the selection of FJP Secretary General Mohamed Saad al-Katatni as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, or the People’s Assembly, on January 23, which secures the Brotherhood’s control over both houses of the legislature. The Brotherhood holds 47 percent of the 508-seat People’s Assembly and 59 percent of the Shura Council’s 180 elected seats. An additional 90 lawmakers are expected to be appointed to the Shura Council by either the ruling generals or the next president.
The Brotherhood again announced that it will not contend in the next round of elections, this time for the presidency, on May 23. “The Muslim Brotherhood will not support Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh or any candidate,” said Muhammed al-Badi, the leader of the Brotherhood, in reference to former Brotherhood member Abul Fotouh who is now running as an independent. However, Badie was clear that the Brotherhood wants a president with an “Islamic background.”
Although the Brotherhood is not officially backing Abul Fotouh, Barry Rubin, the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, believes that the candidate will have the Brotherhood’s support nonetheless: “This is misdirection. The Brotherhood’s influential spiritual advisor Yusuf al-Qaradawi is supporting Abul-Fotouh. And guess what? The Brotherhood is going to support Abul-Fotouh ‘unofficially.’ How? Simple: through the ‘independent’ Justice and Development Party supporting an ‘independent’ presidential candidate.”
“It’s clear now the Brotherhood are willing to throw their weight into the ring… to support someone who is in line with Islamic values and is sympathetic to Islamic law,” Shadi Hamid, a research director at the Brookings Doha Center, told Reuters. “That will have major implications for the race.”
Widespread support for the Brotherhood in parliamentary elections indicates that voters will also likely support the campaign of a former member of the Brotherhood, whether or not he has the Brotherhood’s official endorsement.
“[Abul Fotouh] is one of the great people that the Brotherhood youth look up to and consider as a role model,” Mohammed Qassas, a Brotherhood youth leader, told The Wall Street Journal. “He’s a distinguished person, he represents moderate Islamism and he’s got a good chance to compete.”
Meanwhile, Salafis – who follow the strict Wahhabi doctrine of Islam – will probably have their own candidate, raising the probability that Egypt will elect an Islamist president.
In parliamentary elections, the Salafist al-Nour Party gained widespread support, winning 23 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly and 25 percent of the elected seats in the Shura Council, making it the second largest party in the legislature. Between the Salafis, the Brotherhood, and other Islamist parties, Islamists hold more than 70 percent of seats in the People’s Assembly and 80 percent of seats in the Shura Council.
The Salafis’ success was the election’s greatest surprise and raises concerns among secularists that the group’s radical interpretation of Islam will be imposed over the whole of Egyptian society. Following Egypt’s uprising in January 2011, Salafis called the appointment of a Christian governor in Upper Egypt ‘anti-Islamic’ and successfully had him removed from the post, protested the killing of Osama bin Laden, and attacked churches, Sufi shrines and mosques, liquor stores, and other institutions or businesses they deemed contrary to Wahhabi doctrine.
On March 3, the two houses of parliament began preparations for a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution. The constitution, which will be put to a referendum before the presidential election, could drastically alter Egypt’s government and determine the role of Islam in policymaking. The constitutional assembly will be selected by parliament on March 24.
Many secularists and Christians fear that an Islamist majority parliament will use its power to base the constitution on Islamic Sharia law. While liberals prefer a panel of outside experts and activists to draft the constitution, the Islamist-controlled parliament wants a dominant voice in the process.
“We should not come under pressure and waste the right of the majority by falling in the trap of giving the minority the right to write the constitution,” warned Salafist al-Nour party representative, Mustafa Khalifa, who advocates that Islamist parliamentarians should have the greatest voice in writing the constitution.
Salafis have further stated that Islam should be the sole source of legislation and that Christians and women should not be allowed to run for president. Other recent indicators, including charges filed against minorities and secularists for “defaming Islam”, have evidenced this commitment of the Salafis.
On January 9, Christian telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris, who founded the Free Egyptians political party, was charged for “blasphemy and insulting Islam” when he reposted a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and a veiled Minnie Mouse on Twitter. Among the group of Islamist lawyers who filed the lawsuit against Sawiris was Mamdouh Ismail, a former member of Islamic Jihad who has been known to represent accused terrorists and was himself arrested for complicity with al-Qaeda in 2007.
The Brotherhood quickly backed Ismail’s lawsuit while Salafis led a nationwide campaign to boycott products and services offered by Sawiris’ companies. Many secularists believed Islamists rallied the nationwide outcry to discredit Sawiris and his secular Free Egyptians Party.
Although an Egyptian court dismissed the second of two cases filed against Sawiris on March 3, other cases remain pending, including charges filed against Adel Imam, Egypt’s leading comic actor, in early-February. Imam appealed a sentence of three months in jail for “defaming Islam” by an Egyptian court for a role he played in a 2007 film. The cases represent only a few of many charges that were filed by Islamist lawyers in recent months to punish individuals for offending Islam and demonstrate that Islamists are using newly gained political powers to stifle freedom of expression.
“In both cases, [Sawiris and Imam] didn’t do anything against ‘Islam’ but merely made fun of Islamists,” commented Barry Rubin. “The battle, of course, is being waged by Islamists who want their interpretation of the religion to be declared as the only acceptable version. Westerners don’t understand that when that happens anything more moderate or flexibly traditional hence becomes illegal and punishable. The Islamist counter-Bill of Rights proclaims that the country’s people have no freedom of speech or freedom of religion, no right to free assembly or of the press.”
The blasphemy trials and other acts of discrimination against minorities have led secularists and Coptic Christians to denounce the Brotherhood’s success in the parliamentary elections which, many claim, did not adequately represent the voice of the Egyptian people. In the latest significant gathering of protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in early February, which marked the one year anniversary of President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster from power, demonstrators condemned both the military’s rule and the Brotherhood’s significant political gains.
“Protestors were shouting, ‘No military council and no Brotherhood. This is our revolution, the youth’s revolution,’” Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub told International Christian Concern. “The Brotherhood is more concerned with their movement than the benefit of the country.”
“I dream that one day all the Egyptian people will demonstrate against the Brotherhood,” said activist Mary Ibrahim Daniel, whose brother Mina Daniel was killed during protests on October 9. “I was surprised to see so many people, including Muslims, protesting against them outside the House of Parliament… The Brotherhood is hijacking the ideals and motives behind the revolution.”
Nonetheless, it is unlikely that secular activists can muster enough strength to gain widespread support when some two-thirds of Egyptian Muslims voted for Islamist parties in parliamentary elections. Whether liberals like it or not, thus far the leading candidates for the presidency are Islamists. Moreover, to run for president requires the endorsement of 30 parliamentarians. Only four parties have that many – the Brotherhood, the Salafis, the Wafd, and the liberal Egyptian Bloc (Free Egyptians Party). Undoubtedly, there will be few, if any, charges in the slate of presidential candidates before registration to run for president ends on April 8.
The question now is which candidate, if any, the Brotherhood will put its weight behind. It could “unofficially” endorse Abul Fotouh or choose to back another frontrunner without a party, like the nationalist Amr Moussa, who is a former foreign minister and Arab League head. It appears that the Brotherhood’s support will dictate the election’s outcome.
The Brotherhood’s consolidation of power over Egypt’s two houses of parliament and its potential influence in the presidential elections has become a frightening reality for the country’s liberals and minorities. While the Brotherhood shares many of the Salafis’ fundamental beliefs, it does not wish to alarm moderates or Western allies and so has directed its public activities toward economic and political reform. Yet, many Egyptians worried about personal freedoms remain unconvinced. The Brotherhood’s official slogan has long been “Islam is the Solution” and few liberals are persuaded that the group’s sudden rise to political stardom will alter its fundamental Islamic agenda.
“There are genuine fears because the heads of the Brotherhood now and the Salafis who got into parliament, none of them – neither their organizations nor their ideas – reflect that they are people who live in this day and age and understand how a nation can progress,” Gamal al-Banna, the more moderate brother of the Brotherhood’s founder Hassan al-Banna, told Reuters.
“Any nation founded on religion must fail… [Egypt’s revolution] was a popular uprising that succeeded in destroying a system, but not in building a new one,” al-Banna concluded. We will soon see whether the rule of Mubarak will be replaced with the tyranny of Sharia law.
United Kingdom, February 11, 2012: George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has warned there are ‘deep forces at work in Western society’ that are degrading the values of Christianity after a High Court ruling banned public prayers from council meetings.
This new George Carey has rather abandoned the careful diplomatic language he used as an archbishop to keep different church factions in the same pews, in favour of something more earthy and apocalyptic, reflecting his own evangelical background. George Carey was not regarded as an outspoken Archbishop of Canterbury by the standards of both his predecessor and his successor.
While Robert Runcie and Rowan Williams generated and still generate headlines and ruffle politicians’ feathers, George Carey was largely overshadowed during his 11 years as head of the Anglican communion by internal church battles, notably over the ordination of women. Some even came to regard him as a wee bit dull and mealy-mouthed. If so, then he has more than made up for it since he stepped down in 2002.
In the past few months alone, he has publicly criticised both the cathedral authorities at St Paul’s over the Occupy protest camp, and the Lords Spiritual for leading the opposition to the Government’s benefit cuts in the Upper Chamber of Parliament, where Lord Carey of Clifton now sits as a life peer. “I have been mildly upset to be told to shut up by my fellow Anglican bishops.” But his usually sober face spreads into a grin as he says it. “I have felt freer to speak my mind as my own man, but I am always conscious of not wanting to get in Rowan’s way”.
This new George Carey has rather abandoned the careful diplomatic language he used as an archbishop to keep different church factions in the same pews, in favour of something more earthy and apocalyptic, reflecting his own evangelical background. “There are deep forces at work in Western society, hollowing out the values of Christianity and driving them to the margins”.
Among these forces, he has the judiciary firmly in his sights following a spate of recent rulings, which, he claims, have allowed equality to “trump” the freedom of the individual in matters of belief. “Judges,” he contends, “say that the law has no obligation to the Christian faith, but I say ‘rubbish’ to that. Historically there has been a great interlocking of Christianity with our laws in this country.”
- peter stanford
The Forgotten Egyptian Christians
Egypt, February 09, 2012: There is an untold story to the 2011 Egyptian revolution. This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, and the Harvard University Institute of Politics marked the occasion last week with the event “Egypt: From Tahrir Square to Today.” The panel, which included Harvard Kennedy School Professor Tarek Masoud and journalist Mona Eltahawy, praised the new self-determination of the Egyptian people and expressed a cautious optimism despite the inherent “messiness” of Egypt’s transition to democratic rule.
But there is another story to be told here, one that was disgracefully ignored by the panel and often downplayed in the Western media. And that is the story of how the Egyptian revolution has resulted in unmitigated disaster for Egypt’s Coptic Christians. Deriving their name from the Arabic “qubt,” meaning “Egyptian,” Copts have maintained a continuous presence in Egypt since approximately 43 CE, almost six centuries before the founding of Islam. Over the past few decades, Egypt’s Copts have experienced severe persecution from extremist Muslim groups—a horrific church bombing in Alexandria on New Year’s Day 2011 was the most devastating attack before the revolution. For better or worse, however, under Mubarak, the Egyptian government suppressed many of these extremist groups, including members of the ultraconservative Salafists. As a result, Copts maintained an uneasy relationship with the military and currently account for approximately ten percent of Egypt’s population.
But that number is dwindling. Since Mubarak’s ouster last year, escalating persecution against Copts has led to what one refugee calls a mass Christian “exodus” from Egypt. Forty Copts died in 22 separate incidents in the first half of 2011, compared to just 15 in all of 2010. For the first time ever, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that Egypt be designated a “Country of Particular Concern,” placing it on par with the likes of North Korea, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia with respect to religious freedom. Human rights groups estimate that approximately 100,000 Christians have fled Egypt since the revolution, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service reports that the number of Copts seeking asylum in America more than doubled in 2011.
What, exactly, has happened since last February? Although Christians demonstrated alongside Muslims to overthrow Mubarak last year, the military regime in his absence has refused to make any arrests in response to attacks on Copts. So although Salafists continued to persecute Christians throughout 2011, the post-Mubarak government has given them a far freer reign to do so.
Thus, one month after Mubarak’s ouster, Al Arabiya ran an article headlined “Ultraconservative Muslims more assertive in Egypt,” detailing how Salafists clashed with villagers south of Cairo after demanding that a liquor store be closed down. In May, approximately 11 people were killed and two churches burned after a Salafist-led mob terrorized Christians in Imbaba. In October, the Egyptian army fired at Copts in Maspero who were peacefully protesting a church attack, killing 26 mostly Christian protestors.
Furthermore, the recent democratic elections allowed parties that were previously banned under Mubarak to run freely. This reform was hailed in the West, but the unfortunate result left the Salafists, the very people who had been helping facilitate oppression of Egypt’s Copts for decades, in control of approximately a quarter of Egypt’s parliament.
American reaction to these events has unfortunately been far too muted. A New York Times column by Nicolas Kristof in December, for example, featured a video in its online version titled “Who’s Afraid of Egypt’s Islamists?” “Democratic transitions are always messy,” Kristof asserts, but “the fundamental historical truth unfolding this year is not the rise of one party,” but “the emergence of people-power…to overthrow a dictator.” “It’s reasonable to worry,” Kristof insists, “but let’s not overdo it.”
Three weeks after Kristof published that column, the spokesman for the Salafist Al Nour party declared that it was forbidden for Muslims to send Christmas greetings to Christians. Three days later, a Coptic student was detained for publishing an “offensive” image of Muhammad on his Facebook—Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that angry Muslim residents from four nearby villages proceeded to firebomb the student’s house. And five days before the IOP event, a mob of over 3000 Muslims attacked Copts in Alexandria, looting Coptic homes and shops before setting them ablaze.
Needless to say, none of these incidents was mentioned at the Harvard panel.
Given the tremendous optimism expressed by the United States at the start of the Arab Spring, it is hard to acknowledge the reality that Egyptian self-determination has come at the expense of its Christians. But the answer to this problem is not to ignore it. Everything that is said now, while Egypt’s government is still in flux, can help shape the country in a way that will protect the rights of its minorities. And for the sake of religious freedom for Egypt’s Coptic Christians, America cannot afford to be silent.
- the crimson, avishai d. don
US might turn blind eye to religious freedom * Vatican official calls for world day on Anti-Christian persecution
Rome, December, 8 2011: Christians have become the most persecuted followers of any religion in the world today, according to participants at a recent conference in Moscow. Yet the U.S. government appears to be scaling back its work to safeguard this crucial human right.
The International Conference on the Freedom of Religion and Discrimination against Christians, which took place earlier this month and brought together representatives of Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic communities and international religious experts, warned that the faith risks vanishing completely in parts of the world as a consequence.
The conference heard that about 100 million Christians worldwide are suffering persecution and thousands die in religious conflicts. Metropolitan Hilarion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church’s Foreign Relations Department, said the largest number affected live in Africa and the Middle East.
The participants attributed two main reasons to the increase in attacks: the loss of Christian roots and European secularism where secular authorities are increasingly marginalizing religion from public life; and Islamic radicalism, exacerbated by aggressive missionary work by representatives of different non-Christian sects, and distortions of Christian teaching.
Interestingly, it took a Muslim participant to highlight the role that politics also plays in igniting clashes between religions, according to the Web site persecution.org. Mufti Mohammedgali Khuzin, of the Russian Association of Islamic Accord, noted that the two major religious conflicts of today are between Muslims and Jews and between Muslims and Christians. “Instigated by third parties, these conflicts yield a lot of benefit for the secular consumer society, which cashes in fabulously on them,” he said.
It was within this context that the head of an influential commission in the United States that monitors violations of religious freedom worldwide addressed parliamentarians in London and Brussels last week.
Leonard Leo, president of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), visited the European and British parliaments as a guest of the Rome-based Dignitatis Humanae Institute (Institute for Human Dignity). He warned a group of British peers Nov. 30 that in view of Christians facing increasing persecution and marginalization worldwide, governments must “respond robustly” to safeguard religious liberty.
Addressing the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Dignity, who included the veteran human rights campaigners Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Cox, Leo recalled Pope Benedict XVI’s frequent appeals to uphold this basic right. The Holy Father has said “the right to religious freedom should be viewed as innate to the fundamental dignity of every human person — it is crucial to the common good of society,” Leo recalled.
“It has therefore been a great honor to speak here in the U.K. Parliament and address this important issue at this time,” he continued. “The USCIRF is the world’s only independent governmental body fully devoted to advancing this fundamental human right, serving as a voice for the voiceless in countries where religious freedom is not respected.”
Responding to his speech, Lord Alton who chairs the working group, drew attention to a recent report by the charity Aid to the Church in Need which showed that 75% of religious persecution is against Christians, mostly in the Islamic world. He also noted the growing marginalization of Christians in the West.
“In Britain, Christians face a double threat,” he explained. “Firstly, radical secularism that has forced the Catholic Church to curtail some of its valuable services to society, and secondly a growing radical Islam that is leading to the creation of parallel Sharia laws. This so-called Sharia Creep is out to exploit the weaknesses of our value system, increasing the chances of extremist violence.”
All of this shows that the USCIRF is “needed more now than perhaps at any other time in its history,” Lord Alton said.
At Leo’s meeting in the European Parliament on Nov. 29, Nirj Deva MEP, President of the International Committee on Human Dignity, described the USCIRF chief as “one of the most prominent campaigners for the promotion of religious liberty in the world today.” The organization, he added, played a “pivotal role in ensuring that the United States rises to the hopes of millions of oppressed people around the world, by keeping the issue of human rights firmly at the core of US foreign policy.”
Leo said the challenge of advancing religious freedom across the globe “is insurmountable for any one organisation. Thus, there is an increasing need for ever greater cooperation between peoples towards a better coordinated and targeted action.”
The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. Its Commissioners are appointed by the U.S. president and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.
But despite its irreplaceable value, the organization may well be shut down on Dec. 16. Two continuing congressional resolutions had temporarily extended its life which had been threatened by budget cuts. But now a re-authorization bill has had a “hold” placed on it by Senate majority whip, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), according to CNS News.
This means it is increasingly unlikely that USCIRF’s life will be extended beyond Dec. 16. The Government Services Administration has notified the Commission that it must take steps to prepare for closure of the agency.
News of USCIRF’s possible closure comes as the Vatican’s “foreign minister,” Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, called for an international day against persecution of Christians. He told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Dec. 7 that there may be 200 million Christians, of different confessions, “who are in difficulty because of legal and cultural structures that lead to their discrimination.” For this reason, he proposed the institution of an International Day against persecution and discrimination of Christians as “an important sign that governments are willing to deal with this serious issue.”
“In view of Archbishop Mamberti’s comments, now is really not the time for a government such as the United States, with its almost unique moral standing of leadership on world stage, to be scaling back its commitment to defending those who are persecuted for their faith,” said Benjamin Harnwell, founder of the Institute for Human Dignity.
To ensure the agency continues its highly valued work, readers are encouraged to write to their members of Congress.
Vatican official calls for world day on Anti-Christian persecution
Vilnius, December 7, 2011: A Vatican official is calling for a World Day to mark anti-Christian violence and persecution, saying there might be more than 200 million Christians suffering discrimination.
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Holy See’s secretary for Relations with States, addressed the 18th Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held today and Tuesday in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The archbishop addressed the Organization’s commitments in defense of fundamental freedoms and human rights, one of which is the right to freedom of religion. “The right to religious freedom, despite being repeatedly proclaimed by the international community, as well as in the constitutions of most states, continues to be widely violated today,” he lamented.
Benedict XVI himself recalled, in his message from this year’s World Day of Peace, that Christians “are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith,” the prelate noted.
According to Archbishop Mamberti, “there may be more than 200 million Christians, of different confessions, who are in difficulty because of legal and cultural structures that lead to their discrimination.” For this reason, he proposed the institution of an International Day against persecution and discrimination of Christians as “an important sign that governments are willing to deal with this serious issue.”
Trafficking & Migration
Archbishop Mamberti also spoke about the problem of trafficking in human beings, especially of women and minors, for sexual exploitation as well as for labor exploitation and domestic servitude, which has become a “powerful global business involving many countries of origin, transit, and destination. To counteract the scourge of trafficking in human beings with greater determination and more concrete results, a convergence of efforts is necessary: a mentality that is centered on the unique dignity of every person, a sure punishment of traffickers, the fight against corruption, … and the fairness of mass media in reporting the damages created by trafficking.”
And, regarding the topic of migration, the prelate noted the need to support migrants’ reunification with their families since “the family plays a fundamental role in the integration process, in giving stability to the presence of the immigrants in the new social environment. … Migrants, aware of their rights, can be more secure in offering their services and talents, and the receiving community, well-informed and respectful of these rights, will feel freer in extending its solidarity in order to build together a common future.”
UK, October 28, 2011: AN Ulster MP has challenged the prime minister in person on why Britain is cutting aid to countries which persecute gay people — but giving away millions to countries which are killing Christians.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who was at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons, said: “The prime minister has warned some African countries that unless they improve the rights afforded to gay people, then aid to them from the United Kingdom will be cut.
“However, there are African countries which are in receipt of millions of pounds of UK aid where Christians face great persecution.
“This persecution goes beyond the repression of their religious belief, but extends to the often violent destruction of churches and other property as well as attacks on the people themselves.
“Here in the United Kingdom there has been an incident where a cafe owner faced prosecution for the display of a bible verse on the wall of their property. Was Ann Widdecombe MP right when she said that in the 21st Century hedgehogs have more rights than Christians?”
Mr Donaldson was referring to the case of Blackpool cafe owner Jamie Murray, who was threatened with arrest by police recently unless he stopped playing DVDs of the New Testament in his cafe. They claimed the DVDs incited hatred against homosexuals.
That story prompted Ann Widdecombe MP to ask in a column: “Does the chief constable of Lancashire want to ban the Bible itself? After all, that is the logic of his position if what his force is doing meets with his approval.” She added that hedgehogs are better protected that Christians in Britain today.
Lancashire Constabulary told the News Letter they had not asked for the DVD to be stopped but apologised to Mr Murray for “misinterpreting” the law and for any distress caused.
The prime minister told Mr Donaldson in response yesterday: “Ann Widdecombe is often right, but not always. I do think the honourable gentleman makes an important point. The way we judge our aid decisions is to judge human rights across the piece. And that does mean how people are treating Christians and also the appalling behaviour that some African countries treat people who are gay.”
Mr Donaldson added afterwards: “It is a fundamental belief that we are all created equal yet whilst aid has already been cut to Malawi for their treatment of two gay men there has been absolutely no action taken against aid provided to Zimbabwe which currently receives £69 million of aid despite the systematic persecution of Christians there.
“This is an issue of equity and fairness and a question about our government not picking and choosing which groups of oppressed people we choose to stand for.”
In May, Mr Donaldson’s colleague David Simpson proposed a Westminster debate on the violent persecution of Christians internationally.
Mr. Simpson said: “Nigeria continues to witness wave upon wave of violence directed against Christians with hundreds of Christians killed in the aftermath of the election,” he said. Mobs massacred hundreds of Christians, burned more than 300 churches, and destroyed countless Christian homes.
“In Iraq, since the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, more than half of its Christian population has, as a result of violent suppression, been forced to either flee their homes or else flee the country altogether.”
Mr. Simpson added: “In the old Soviet bloc countries – from Russia itself, through to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan – violence, prosecution and imprisonment are common.”
‘People Seem To Be Able To Do Whatever They Like Against Christianity, But Not Islam’ British Christian M.P. David Simpson has raised his concern over the treatment of Christians in the United Kingdom and around the world in a debate in the House of Commons this week. The DUP politician told ministers that if they wanted to see instances of Christian persecution they need not go to other countries but “simply look to our own back door”. “In the United Kingdom, the policy seems to be that people can do whatever they like against Christianity – criticize it or blaspheme the name of Christ – as long as they do not insult Islam,” he said. “It is sad because this country is based on civil and religious liberty for all. When Queen Victoria was on the throne, the secret behind England’s greatness was its open scriptures and open Bible. “Today, that policy is being hammered into the ground, and that concerns me greatly for the years and months that lie ahead.” The Commons debate follows the case of a Christian driver who was told to remove a small cross from the dashboard of his company van over concerns that it would offend people of other faiths, even though the company, Wakefield District Housing, allows a Muslim employee to display a verse from the Koran in her company car.
WDH launched an investigation into Colin Atkinson after he refused to remove the cross but backed down after media reports prompted outcry against the action. Simpson spoke of his concern over the proliferation of violent attacks on Christians in other parts of the world. He pointed particularly to “wave upon wave” of violent attacks against Christians in Nigeria, where hundreds have been killed in post-election violence, and Pakistan, where the blasphemy laws continue to be used by Muslims to justify attacks against Christians. In many parts of the Middle East, meanwhile, evangelism and conversion are prohibited, he noted.
Simpson warned of the “inherent dangers” accompanying the Arab Spring, as groups seek to exploit the recent uprisings and establish a purist society “in which the plight of religious groups will be made worse”. He echoed concerns that democracy will fail in the Arab world unless the G8 provides adequate financial support to democratic players. He said Britain had a responsibility to use its influence to help establish democracy in places likeEgypt and Tunisia. “Although the current situation for Christians in many Middle East countries is difficult, it could become increasing dangerous in the coming months and years,” he said. “We, as a Parliament and a nation, should not be like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan and simply pass by on the other side.” As important trading partners and recipients of British aid, Simpson said the Government should not respond to the human rights situation in many Arab nations with “silence”. “I urge the Government not simply to chase the financial bottom line in our dealings with neighbors and partners,” he said.
“As one of the great economies of the world and one of the beacons of democratic freedom, we have a duty to use all of our influence to help those who suffer injustice around the world. “There is a rising tide of affliction that is swelling around Christians across the world. “This nation and this Parliament should be more to the fore in the campaign against that and for civil and religious liberty. I urge the Government and all hon. Members to rise to that challenge.” Conservative M.P. Tony Baldry agreed that the Government should set out clear benchmarks for progress on religious freedom in its bilateral and multilateral dialogue with other states. “Pakistan will soon be the largest recipient of U.K. bilateral development aid, which legitimately gives us some leverage in our dealings with it. We should continue to make representations in the strongest and most forceful way about the impact that its blasphemy law is having on its people,” he said.
Baldry is due to meet Christians in Cairo, Egypt in the coming days, where the Christian community is still reeling from deadly attacks by Muslims in recent weeks. “It is not only Egypt that is affected,” he said. “The tragedy is that Christianity in the Middle East is on the slide. “Indeed, it is not just sliding into obscurity; it is almost in danger of being extinguished in many countries, such as Iran and Iraq. “About 50 years ago, this was a part of the world where Jews, Muslims and Christians lived side by side. “Now, for various reasons, it is extremely difficult for Christians to profess their faith in many Middle East countries.” Jim Shannon, also of the DUP, said there was a tendency to become “de-sensitized” to the plight of others but urged people to remember victims of persecution and help them practically and prayerfully. “We must listen, be stirred by what we have heard, then do all we can to help,” he said.
In a significant legal development, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has requested that the British Government state whether they believe that the rights of Christians have been infringed in recent cases where individuals have been penalised for expressing their faith in the workplace.
The request has come because legal action is being taken by four Christians who argue that their rights have been infringed.
The four Christians are: Gary McFarlane, a counsellor who was sacked by a counselling service for saying that he would not give sex therapy to homosexual couples; Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was banned from working on hospital wards for wearing a cross around her neck; Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee who was prevented from wearing a cross; and Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined by Islington council for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.
The Christian Legal Centre is representing Shirley Chaplin and Gary McFarlane.
The cases have been viewed by the European Court as being of such importance that they merit further investigation. Once British Government ministers have responded the Court will decide whether to hold further hearings. Many will be watching these developments closely, as the number of Christian discrimination cases in the UK appears to be continuing to rise.
It is hoped that the consideration of these cases will provide greater clarity as to how freedom of conscience for Christians can be preserved when it comes into conflict with UK ‘equality’ laws.
Earlier in the year, the ECHR ruled that crosses were allowed to be displayed on classroom walls after a case from Italy was heard. This decision appeared out of step with how British courts had ruled on the four cases, which were all lost on appeal.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said:
“These cases are massively significant.
“There seems to be a disproportionate animosity towards the Christian faith and the workings of the courts in the UK has led to deep injustice.
“If we are successful in Strasbourg I hope that the Equalities Act and other diversity legislation will be overturned or overhauled so that Christians are free to work and act in accordance with their conscience.
“People with orthodox views on sexual ethics are excluded from employment because they don’t fit in with the equalities and diversity agenda. It is this which we want to see addressed. Such injustice cannot be allowed to continue.”
- The Telegraph
London, UK, 27 May, 2011 (Telegraph): It was the elephant in the room: the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Britain talked of missiles and green house gases, Libya and Afghanistan, and how to barbecue a perfect burger. But they studiously avoided raising the plight of 250 million Christians who face persecution around the world. For two days the most important men in the free world had a chance to draw up a plan to help their co-religionists who face torture and death in Egypt, India, Pakistan, Sudan and China; they blew it. Copts, Evangelicals, Catholics, Greek Orthodox: the persecutors are indiscriminate. Their means include arson, shooting, rape and pillaging; and their methods are often legitimate in their own country, as in Pakistan, where under its blasphemy law, any dissent from Islam is unlawful. The anti-Christians’ aim is to eradicate a religion they consider subversive, because it challenges the oppression of totalitarianism and extremist Islam.
Yet the same two world leaders who stepped in to save Libyan civilians (mainly Muslim) from the tyrannical Colonel Qaddafi, Afghan Muslims from the tyranny of the Taliban, are abstaining from weighing in to help fellow Christians in the Middle East, Africa or Asia. Why? I worry that their cowardice stems in part from fear of Islam. Most of the persecution of Christians is taking place in Muslim countries, and at Muslim hands. This puts Barack Obama and David Cameron in an awkward spot: they risk the support of their domestic Muslim communities if they so much as raise the issue. Yet just as there are American and British Jews who do not condone Israeli violence, so there are many American and British Muslims who do not condone the persecution of Christians. Perhaps Obama and Cameron worry that Muslims in the west are coming under attack as it is; by pointing out that Islamic extremists are torturing and killing people simply because of their faith, Western leaders fan the flames of anti-Muslim feeling. But this argument, which has surfaced again and again since September 11 2001, cannot hold any longer. The West cannot hold up values – only to make exceptions for a minority that can attack and murder as it sees fit.
As Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, writes, the West can and should tie its overseas aid to the protection of Christian communities. (In terms of Britain’s foreign aid alone, think how much a fraction of its £12 billion budget could do to save Christians.) Checking the success of such a scheme may prove difficult; but the message it sends out is clear: leave these people alone. It will reach the persecutors and the persecuted, and remind Americans and Britons that there is such a thing as ethical foreign policy.
- Cristina Odone
Christian lawyers have promised to step up their campaign against the marginalisation of religion in society as they prepare to fight more than 50 different cases.
By Nick Collins
05/01/2011 UK (The Telegraph)-The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) pledged to stand up against what it feels is the growing problem of traditional Christian views being “silenced or sidelined” in modern Britain.
Weeks after concluding a high-profile battle to allow an electrician to display a palm cross in his company van, the CLC said it had more than 50 similar cases on its books as a growing number of Christians seek to fight employers who they feel do not respect their faith.
Andrea Williams, CLC chief executive, said she had been “inspired” by groups like the US-based Alliance Defence Fund (ADF), which seek to raise a “new generation of lawyers to defend Christianity in the public sphere”.
With the help of the ADF, the CLC and its partner organisation, Christian Concern For Our Nation, have set up a new academy aimed at teaching the skills necessary for “servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in public life”.
She said the CLC – which does not ask clients for money – was receiving as many as five enquiries a day after representing electrician Colin Atkinson in his row with Wakefield District Housing, his employer.
The housing company bore the brunt of public outrage after it was disclosed that it attempted to ban Mr Atkinson from displaying a palm cross in his van, where it had been on show for 15 years.