English Catholic Bishops: Bill May Abolish Christmas
'If this bill is serious about equality, everything possible must be done to avoid it having a chilling effect on religious expression'
In a letter to MPs, Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said that Harriet Harmon's Equality Bill will have a "chilling effect" on local councils, town halls and other organizations clamping down on Christmas festivities for fear of offending people of other religions.
The Equality Bill combines all previous equality legislation in the U.K., and includes a range of new provisions.
"Under existing legislation," Summersgill wrote, "we have seen the development of a risk-averse culture with outcomes as ridiculous as reports of a local authority instructing tenants to take down Christmas lights in case they might offend Muslim neighbours, or of authorities removing the word Christmas out of cultural sensitivity to everyone except Christians.
"If this bill is serious about equality, everything possible must be done to avoid it having a chilling effect on religious expression and practice."
The Christian Institute, Britain's leading Christian political lobby group, has listed incidents where public displays of Christianity at Christmas have already come under attack. Councils around Britain are removing all references to the name "Christmas" from their 2009 events.
Birmingham City Council has changed the name of this year's light-switching-on event to the generic "Winterval." Last November an attempt by Oxford City Council to drop Christmas from the title of the city's celebrations was condemned by both residents and religious leaders.
The Christian Institute complained about the bill, saying that councils "are already over-zealous in applying equality laws." The bill, they said, "will make this worse."
In fact, some of the Labour government's closest advisors have already urged it to abolish public displays of a Christian origin at Christmas. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which has shaped many Labour party policies, said in 2007 that Christmas "should be downgraded to help race relations."
The equality legislation leads only to the law favoring aggrieved minority lobby groups over the existing Christian culture, the Christian Institute says. The group pointed to the closure and forced secularization of several of Britain's Catholic adoption agencies under similar legislation, the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) of the 2007 Equality Act.
Under the SORs, they said, "the rights of children have been trumped by the rights of homosexual adults. Any agency which refuses to do homosexual adoptions becomes a target for closure."
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