|Colin Hart, Director, Christian Institute|
In a wonderful example of how you can rig an opinion poll to give the result you want, the Christian Institute is trying to influence UK Government policy ahead of the General Election next May. They had commissioned the ComRes polling organisation to conduct a poll in marginal constituencies on the question of religious freedom versus equality legislation.
They found that only eleven percent of voters in these constituencies believe religious freedom has increased during Cameron's premiership, while forty-four percent would support protection for 'sincere, profoundly held beliefs'. They also found the only twenty-one percent disagree that the “tide of equality legislation has gone too far in elevating equality over religious freedom”.
Now, I don't know how ComRes conducted this poll but it would almost certainly be either by targeted telephone polling or street interviews, possibly door-to-door. Of course, if you ask someone "Do you agree that the tide of equality legislation has gone too far in elevating equality over religious freedom?" how many people are going to disagree rather than saying they agree or don't know? What we don't know is how many agreed with the statement because the Christian Institute only tell us what percentage disagree. For all we know, this could have been anything but one thing we can be fairly sure of is that it was less than twenty-one percent otherwise we would have been told about it.
Why would people believe religious freedoms are increasing anyway? Is there a public expectation that religious freedoms should be increasing because we aren't free enough? In what way, exactly are religious people not free to be religious? Quite simply, there is no call for more because there is no real perception, especially in increasingly secular Britain, that religious people are not free to be religious.
And of course, in secular Britain, people support protection for people with 'sincere, profoundly held beliefs' but that's not the same thing as believing they don't currently have these protections. There is no legislation, either in UK or EU Law which threatens people for having 'sincere, profoundly held beliefs'. In fact quite the reverse. Freedom of religion is guaranteed under the
The surprise here is that only forty-four percent would support it. I wonder what the result would be to a question asking, "Do you support protection for children?" Would that imply that people think the Law doesn't protect children?
What's behind this of course is that Christians are still smarting from a couple of recent court rulings that their religious freedom does not extend to them using their faith as an excuse to deny human rights to others. Quite rightly, the European Court has ruled that religious freedom does not convey the right to deny freedom to others and that when these come into conflict, the rights of potential victims of religious people must predominate. The cases in particular were:
- Three Christians lost their claims for unfair dismissal after refusing to provide services to gay people on the grounds that, as Christians, they should be exempt from the law against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. The court ruled that their dismissals were fair because their religion did not entitle to deny basic human rights to others.
- A Christian couple had been sued by a homosexual couple for refusing to allow them to stay at their guest house on the grounds that homosexuality is against their Christian belief. Discrimination on the grounds of sexuality is illegal in Britain under the Human Rights Act. The couple lost and were ordered to pay damages to the couple. They appealed on the grounds that under the Human Rights Act their human right to practice their religion as Christians should allow them to discriminate and deny human rights to others. In effect, they were arguing that their Christian beliefs should entitle them to exemption from the law because it required them to bully and abuse homosexuals. They lost.
Those surveyed rightly believe that religious freedom in this country has not improved under Mr Cameron’s leadership. The Government inherited Labour’s 2010 Equalities Act which during his premiership led to high profile cases widely seen as undermining faith.
Various court rulings at home and in Europe have been particularly damaging to free speech and religious freedom in this country. Yet instead of amending the law, the Government strongly backed the rulings. It has helped create a hostile climate.
This poll confirms the high levels of concern that the public have about religious freedom and free speech in the UK after four years of the Coalition Government. They feel that there has been no improvement and the only way this can be addressed is to offer people of faith and beliefs real protections. If they are to be meaningful they must be enshrined in legislation.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute
The polls shows nothing of the sort of course, but the Christian Institute isn't too bothered about truth in it's pursuit of political influence, job protection for its clerics and special privileges for Christians over and above those they already have.
The Anglican Christian Church, with it's nominal head as the Head of State, with it's senior bishops entitled to an unelected seat in our legislative upper chamber and with their tax-exempt status, feels unfairly discriminated against because Christians are not exempt from laws they don't like, are not allowed to impose their bigotry on others and are not allowed to deny basic human right to whomsoever they wish.
And they are not above rigging opinion polls and misrepresenting their findings in order to influence political policies and interfere with the outcome of General Elections in order to try to recover the right to impose their bigotry on others.
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