Christians still feel marginalised - report
The media group’s report is based upon consecutive polls it has commissioned in recent years to gauge perceptions among Christians and non-Christians.
Feelings of marginalisation were found to be particularly strong amongst Christians. In a 2008 survey of 500 Christians, 73% said they felt Christians were being unfairly marginalised in British society.
That was followed by a C-Panel poll the following year which found that 66% of Christians felt there was greater negative discrimination towards Christians than other faiths.
Although non-Christians were far less likely to agree that Christians were being marginalised, poll results revealed a sympathetic general public.
In a May 2010 ComRes poll of Christians and non-Christians, 38% believed marginalisation of Christianity was increasing. In March this year, a similar ComRes poll found that 37% of the general public felt the Government favours other religions over Christianity. In the 2010 survey, 43% of the general public said they expected the marginalisation of Christians in society to increase in the next five years.
Premier noted perceptions of “favouritism” towards Muslims in particular and a bias towards homosexual lobby groups.
It pointed to the recent statement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission acknowledging that Christians were being discriminated against more than other religious groups in the workplace and proposing the “reasonable accommodation” of beliefs. It retracted the statement a few weeks later following the intervention of Angela Mason, formerly of gay rights group Stonewall.
Despite perceptions of marginalisation, Premier noted that in another poll, only 12% of Christians said they had experienced victimisation directly.
Premier said that the feelings of marginalisation could be attributed to the media or the rise of secularism.
The report stated: “There are several explanations for this general feeling of increased marginalisation. The first reason is the rise of secularism, evidenced through the virulent campaigning of such groups like the National Secular Society.
“Another contributory factor could be the negative role some parts of the media has played, not only in shaping public perception, but more specifically, creating a climate of anxiety and fear amongst Christians.”
Polls consistently revealed feelings of dissatisfaction with the way that issues of a Christian nature are portrayed by the media, with one respondent saying that Christians were often depicted as “complaining”, “bigoted” or “extreme”.
“Our evidence shows that not only is the misrepresentation of Christians and Christianity in the news affecting the general public’s perception, but it is also affecting the Christian community,” Premier said.
Premier warned that the “sensational” way in which some legal cases involving Christians had been covered by the media had contributed “significantly to creating a climate of fear amongst Christians”.
The report went on to state that there was an “inconsistency” in the way that courts apply and interpret equality laws in relation to Christians.
“When it comes to competing rights between different groups, the rights of Christians seem to be ‘sacrificed on the altar of political correctness’,” the report stated.
In spite of the evidence for marginalisation, Premier stressed that there was a “distinct difference” between ‘marginalisation’ and ‘persecution’ and that the term ‘persecution’ could not be applied to the British experience.
“People who consider religion a private matter that does not belong in the public square sometimes discipline Christians who express their faith symbolically at work.
“This is not persecution in the sense that Christians in North Korea and elsewhere experience it. It is just a clash of cultures and needs to be resolved as such.”
Polls indicate strong support for religious freedom in British society, with 87% of people agreeing that religious freedom is an important part of being British.
In a ComRes poll of 1,000 people last year, 85% agreed that “everyone should have the freedom to wear a religious symbol if they want”, while 81% agreed that people should have the right to “wear and show a cross at work if they want to, whatever their job”.
The report concludes with a warning that religious freedoms are being eroded in the UK by “equality legislation and political correctness”.
“To some extent this is inevitable,” Premier states. “Post-modern culture rejects all meta-narratives, including the biblical worldview and its claim to uniqueness.
“Christians who take their faith seriously are at risk of being marginalised because we threaten the presuppositions of this culture.”
The report makes several recommendations, including an appeal to people of all faiths and none to tolerate the beliefs of others and the right to express deeply held convictions “in a civil manner”.
Courts should not show bias to other faiths or groups, the report says, and the media should represent Christianity in a more balanced way.
Legislation also needs to be reviewed and revised to enable true freedom of thought, conscience and religion, while employers should ensure religious liberty in the workplace, Premier says.
“The suggestion that religion is a purely private matter is naïve and shows a total misunderstanding of the teaching of Jesus and the whole Bible.
“Loving one’s neighbour, exerting a ‘salt and light’ influence, and rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, are meaningless if the Christian faith and understanding only concern the inner life of the believer.
“Similarly, the ethical teaching of the Old Testament is for a nation as well as for individuals.”