Sunday, 11 December 2011

The law for Christians in the UK

We are living in a deeply non-religious even anti-religious age. There are fears and misconception about what Christians can do under the protection of the law, almost paralysing social interaction.

Christians must be absolutely free to talk to honest enquirers and seekers. If not, the equal human rights of honest seekers about Christianity are denied. Such encounters often happen in the course of believers' lives. For example, I asked a question in the workplace, at a public event last week (never mentioning Christianity) unconsciously drawing inspiration from a Biblical worldview. It gained a good level of support in the room. This did not surprise me. For me, there is no book as wonderfully sane and balanced as the Bible, properly and coherently interpreted by competent, trained theologians e.g. with no texts taken out of context ("proof-texting").Afterwards, a nice young man came up to me and asked "Where are your views coming from?" I felt it was perfectly acceptable, in this context, to admit to being a believer, and, due to his further questioning, I ended up telling him in detail how I was converted in my 20s from atheism. Christians are regularly answering such questions face-to-face and over the internet from people who are open-minded, and honestly seeking to know more about Christianity and a biblical world view. Christians must not be scared to answer such questioning, bearing in mind the universal "right to hear", but always using a gentle tone and manner. Some may fear they are being "set up" or somehow "baited" (which has happened, once, I felt, to me). However, just to be sure, it is best to study some case law.

A careful examination of these booklets here helps to ascertain what the legally protected rights of Christians are, and blow away some of the "cobwebs". For example, it is fully legal to preach the Gospel in public without a license, anywhere, without being moved, so long as the noise level is kept reasonably low (avoiding loudhalers), people do not riot (the spot is chosen carefully as being non-inflammatory), the pavement is not blocked and the local by-laws are not contravened. However, I would say that anyone considering this, in today's climate would be well advised to take a copy of the attached booklet to offer to anyone also unclear about case law. Street preachers can also give out non-offensive literature (see the guidance in detail).

It is also legal in the UK to talk about once's belief and about Christianity at work to colleagues. This is "freedom of speech". One can also openly state one disagrees with other religions, or non religiuos beliefs (see booklet), in a gentle way, but attacking other religions and non-religions in public places, using pressure and coersion could be viewed as harrassment that might contravene the law. Care must always be used to explain things in a gentle respectful manner and not to use words that could be easily misconstrued, easily misquoted or seen as "offensive" or "threatening" - always highlighting "Biblical teaching". Using everyday, modern words is recommended. Talking to one's clients or patients is another issue also explained. Apparently, this is a more sensitive area, from which most complaints originate. This may be a "grey area" just as medical ethics are very strict about doctor-patient relationships.

I am interested in this as reports emerge of cases going on appeal to the European Courts challenging UK courts' legal decisions on the treatment of Christians in the workplace. Some Christians are clearly feeling that they do not have equal rights with others, and some feel "singled out". Reading this legal advice should help those who feel confused. There is also linked advice on relating to MPs.

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