NATIONAL sovereignty and liberty are more precious than most of us realise. Only when people begin to lose them do they see something of their value. How very few understand that although civil and religious liberties have been won by the struggles and sacrifices of previous generations, it is from the hand of God they come in the first instance and He may see fit to take them away.
As the European Union’s net closes in more tightly on the United Kingdom, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we are losing our national freedom. It is not economic prosperity or free trade which are the principal objectives of the architects of this confederacy but the gaining and retaining of power. God is the King of nations, and as such He ordains the powers that be. “He putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psl. 75:7). Need we wonder if He should leave us, as a nation, to be totally under the power of the European Union when we have turned our backs on Him? Not only have we repudiated His authority but we have also enacted legislation which is diametrically opposed to His holy law. Truly, we do not deserve our precious liberties.
Who can estimate the value of our freedom to worship God according to His Word, to witness against the evils of the age, and to be able to publish far and wide those timeless truths with which He commands us to go out into the world? It is to be feared, however, that our nation could lose this liberty in the process of legislating for human rights. The Human Rights Bill, the purpose of which is to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British domestic law, is now before Parliament. It represents, said Lord Irving, the Lord Chancellor, “one of the major constitutional changes which this Government is making”.
One of its proposals is to treat Churches as “public authorities”, a category which includes central government, local government, police, prisons, courts, and tribunals. “Parliament is exempted,” says The Daily Telegraph, “and although Churches are not mentioned in the draft of the Bill or the White Paper, the Lord Chancellor has confirmed that religious bodies would be considered public bodies’.” Churches therefore would be deprived of their freedom from state interference in spiritual matters. It is quite astonishing, and indicates high-handedness on the part of the Government, that the Churches have been neither properly consulted, nor even referred to in the White Paper that preceded the legislation.
It was feared, and rightly so, that the Bill would result in Churches being prosecuted for actions which are based on their spiritual beliefs. Two examples given were that a clergyman could be prosecuted for refusing to “marry” two homosexuals, and that a court could rule that a Church could not dismiss a minister who held heretical beliefs. It is reported that Anglican bishops fear that “the homosexual rights lobby would endeavour to prosecute the Church of England for not ordaining practising homosexuals”. As the Christian Institute says, “There are hostile anti-religious groups who would only be too glad of an opportunity to test the actions of religious bodies in the courts.”*
An amendment was moved in the House of Lords to exempt Churches altogether from classification as “public authorities”, but it was lost by 11 votes. Less than a fifth of the Lords Spiritual were present in the House had all 26 of them been present the amendment would have carried comfortably. At a later stage, other but weaker amendments were carried in the House of Lords. The principal one, the Clause 2 “Defence” Amendment, states:
Where a court or tribunal is determining a question which has arisen under this act in connection with a Convention right it shall be a defence for a person to show that he has acted in pursuance of a manifestation of religious belief. . . .”*
The Bill is now going through the House of Commons, and it is quite possible that the Commons may decide to not accept the Lords’ amendments. The Lord Chancellor has stated that under the Bill judges will come to a decision in a case “on the morality of the conduct and not simply its compliance with the bare letter of the law”. According to what moral code will judges determine the morality of conduct being considered by the court? When society is permeated by the view that right and wrong are not absolute, and that all faiths are equally true, we cannot hope that judges, on the whole, will judge according to Christian ethics as required by God.
It is necessary that we should not only pray for the preservation of our religious liberties but that we also make representations to our Members of Parliament and government Ministers. We should ask them to do all in their power to maintain the status quo by ensuring that this Bill does not deprive us of the freedom of religion which we still enjoy. In particular, the House of Commons should not only accept the Lords’ amendments but also exempt religious bodies from the Bill. If exemption is not granted, the Bill will still create great difficulties for the Churches, make them open targets of hostile litigation, and bring them into conflict with the state.
* From Hammering Rights Home – How Churches are hit by the Human Rights Bill,
by The Christian Institute, Eslington House, Eslington Terrace, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4RF.