Evangelicals Speak Out Against SORs: 'Christianity Must Resist Privatisation'

The Evangelical Alliance, representing more a million evangelicals in the UK, has said that new equality regulations will unfairly jeopardise the expression of religion and belief in the public square, and are part of a trend to effectively force it behind closed doors.

The regulations in The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 are due to be implemented next month.

Dr Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs at the Evangelical Alliance said: "We do not support discrimination against gay people.

"But equally Christians don't want to find themselves coerced by law into facilitating the promotion of homosexuality."

He added that the regulations are another attempt to create a hierarchy of rights in which religion and belief is not regarded as being on a level playing field with other rights, and is subservient, especially to sexual orientation rights.

Dr Horrocks said this was made explicit by the Joint Committee on Human Rights last week, which also recommended outlawing the expression of legitimate opposition to homosexual practice.

"This fundamentally illiberal approach risks leading to restrictions of fundamental human rights such as freedom of speech and liberty of conscience and will produce a flood of unwelcome litigation," he said.

In broad terms, the exceptions contained in section 14 of the regulations for religion and belief will not apply where faith-based organisations have public contracts or significant commercial activities.

Dr Horrocks welcomed the fact that the regulations do not contain the harassment clause which appeared in the Northern Ireland version, though he added that the Alliance is worried that harassment remains very much on the agenda and may well come back soon.

"Nevertheless, Ruth Kelly is right to emphasise that the regulations do raise serious issues about how to reconcile conflicting rights and freedoms," he said.

"It is ironic that this comes at a time when Government is earnestly wooing religious voluntary groups to help deliver public services.

"But worrying evidence suggests that Christians will increasingly be prevented by law from delivering them in a Christian way.

"It is difficult to understand why a fair and common sense compromise has not been incorporated into these regulations, giving rise to widespread belief that the underlying agenda is ideologically motivated and that equality is being asserted at the expense of diversity. But you cannot legislate against conscience.

"Freedom of conscience is a crucially important right, which we intend to defend. We shall therefore be advising our members to continue to serve their communities as Christians have done for centuries unless and until the law shuts them down."

The Alliance will continue to dialogue constructively with Government and the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights in an endeavour to find sensible ways of avoiding potential clashes of rights which cannot be beneficial for society as a whole.