Scottish independence: Free Church says it cannot support secular state

(PA)Scots will have their say on independence on 18 September 2014

The Free Church of Scotland has expressed disappointment that the Scottish Government's white paper on independence does not recognise the vital role that Christians play in Scottish society.

The Scottish Government unveiled its vision for an independent Scotland this week that included keeping the pound, the monarchy and free education for Scots. 

"Many churches are involved in key support and caring ministries at the heart of vulnerable communities, as well as providing moral and spiritual guidance," said a spokesman.

"The white paper does not explicitly discuss the historical compact between the State and the Church...We hope that this is because the Scottish Government does not propose any alteration to current arrangements."

The Church is concerned that there could be difficulties in striking a balance between human rights and equality legislation.

"While liberty of conscience and freedom of religion are protected under European Convention of Human Rights, the white paper highlights the possibility that there could be an extension of rights.

"Our initial concern would be [how this] would impact on the role of the Church to organise her own affairs and indeed the wider place of Christianity in the public square," the Church said.

Despite these reservations, the Free Church commended the document for the steps it outlines to help the most vulnerable members of society, including guarantees of 30 hours of childcare per week in term time for all three and four-year-olds, and the abolition of the bedroom tax.

It said it would only support those policies that fall in line with Christian values, although it acknowledged that individual opinions vary across the Church.

"Ultimately, we believe that the best foundation for the nation is the Christian faith, and we cannot approve a secular constitution that refuses to recognise the leadership of Jesus Christ, the King of kings," said the spokesman.

"There are a variety of opinions amongst our ministers and members on the independence referendum, and we look forward to engaging with the Scottish Government on this important issue over the coming months."

Scots will head to the polls to vote on independence in a historic referendum on 18 September 2014.