UK one of the most challenging countries for Christians in Europe
A new report has identified the UK as one of the most challenging places for Christians in Europe amid a startling rise in anti-Christian hate crime across the continent.
The report was released by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe (OIDAC) to coincide with the International Day of Human Rights on 10 December.
It reveals a 70 per cent increase in anti-Christian hate crimes in Europe between 2019 and 2020, with the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Sweden forming the top five countries where Christians face the "most severe challenges" for their faith.
The hate crimes include vandalism and arson at churches and Christian buildings, as well as the desecration of cemeteries, physical attacks on Christians, and restrictions on religious freedom, freedom of expression and parental rights.
OIDAC said that secular intolerance and Islamic oppression were the two main threats to European Christians.
The Vienna-based organisation identified an "ideologically infused secularization dynamic that has caused a cultural shift on all levels of society as it tries to relegate religion to the private sphere and ignores the fact that faith plays a vital role in a healthy society".
It warned of "a strong and sometimes even extreme opposition to Christian morals derived from core beliefs", and the increasing criminalisation of opinion.
The report highlights the case of Bernard Randall, who was dismissed from his role as a chaplain at a Christian school and reported to the UK government's terrorist watchdog, Prevent, after telling students in a sermon that they did not have to "accept an ideology they disagree with".
Speaking at the launch of the report this week, Randall said that his experience was "a clear sign of the increasing intolerance Christians have to face".
Professor on Sociology of Religion at Vienna University, Regina Polak, said that anti-Christian hate crimes had reached "worrying" levels, but that they were also under-reported.
"This is a call for comprehensive action, first of all supporting victims, promoting awareness raising measures and research," she said.
Felix Boellmann, a lawyer with human rights organisation ADF International, said "intolerance in the name of tolerance" was becoming a guideline for the State.
"Non-discrimination laws must treat the various protected classes equally. Tolerance cannot be a one-way street," he said.
OIDAC director Madeleine Enzlberger said the 60-page report revealed a "worrisome phenomenon", and spoke of the need to overcome "religious illiteracy" among politicians, civil servants and journalists.
"When Christians are forced to choose between their moral values and their professions; Christian students and speakers get silenced on campuses; when parental rights are trampled on by overreaching governmental interference or asylum claims of Christian refugees are arbitrarily denied; we often find that the main source of this intolerance and discrimination against Christians is due to a simple ignorance towards the problem or an explicit anti-Christian bias," she said.
"Often secular intolerance is driven by radical and ideological groups and it should not be confused with the reasonable concept of secularity.
"Secular intolerance is not only hostile towards religion, but also threatens the guaranteed neutrality of the state towards religion."