Interview with Andrea Williams
Minichiello Williams is CEO of Christian
Concern and the Christian Legal Centre.
Christian Concern seeks to put the hope of
Christ at the centre of the nation by
campaigning on issues of national importance
such as life and family issues and freedom
of belief for Christians. Christian Concern
lobbies for changes in the law through the
Parliamentary process. The Christian Legal
Centre defends Christian freedoms through
the justice system and in the media.
Can you tell more about yourself and the organizations you represent?
My name is Andrea Williams, I am married and the mother of four children. Apart from spending time with my family I am mainly occupied with two organizations: the Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern.
The Christian Legal Centre takes up cases affecting Christian freedoms. I am a barrister and the director of the Centre. As a barrister I am responsible for cases where Christians are defending their right to speak biblical truth in the public sphere. For more information please visit our website:
Besides this I am also the chief executive and co-founder of Christian Concern, which has over 34,000 supporters. Christian Concern is a policy and legal resource centre that identifies changes in policy and law that may affect the Christian heritage of the UK. The team of lawyers and advisers at Christian Concern conduct research into, and campaign on, legislation and policy changes that may affect Christian freedoms or the moral values of the UK. Christian Concern is committed to enabling Christians to stand for biblical truth in the public arena. For information please visit:http://www.christianlegalcentre.com.
Can you tell me more about the way freedom of faith and conscience are protected throughout the history in the UK and what are the main challenges in the UK that are threatening the freedom of faith and conscience?
For centuries the Bible has been the bedrock of English law. The English legal system was originally based on Christian principles of justice derived from theMagna Carta. A yearbook of King Henry VII’s reign, declared, „A basic principle of the Common Law is that any law is, or of right ought to be, according to the Law of God”.
The flawed philosophy afflicting our legal system currently is one that results from focusing on our so called legal Human Rights. The philosophy behind Human Rights Law is founded on humanist principles – the idea that human conduct should be based on natural knowledge, and not upon supernatural knowledge.
So what is the problem of this philosophy?
The most important thing is that this philosophy puts man at the centre of society and ignores God. As a direct result of this, the UK is experiencing various negative trends which have become more visible and more problematic in the last ten years. What we currently see in the United Kingdom is the systematic and accelerating divergence of our laws from Biblical truth and a culture that proclaims „my tolerance of the liberal views of others is all that matters”; and that „there is no truth except the truth that there is no truth”
The English society is a society that is moving away from Christian principles of morality, and which, in some areas, has abandoned them altogether. As a result we have the situation that laws are created to permit behaviour, as opposed to restrain behaviour
When we abandon God’s laws we end up in the social, legal and moral chaos that the UK has currently found itself in.
What are the most important challenges concerning the protection of freedom of faith and conscience in the current UK Legislation? How is the current relation between the freedom of faith and conscience and the laws on anti-discrimination?
The Government has introduced a whole raft of equality and diversity legislation with the goal to promote an aggressive secularism that wants to cut Christianity out of public life. The laws also promote a new state-enforced morality, particularly regarding sexual ethics, that many Christians cannot condone.
The Equality Act 2010 and its predecessors have meant that Christians in the UK are unable to discriminate in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation or religious belief. This is a clash of freedoms. TheLabour government’s view was quite clear – homosexual demands trump religious rights, even where the effect will be to force Christians to act contrary to their deeply-held convictions. If you provide a service, you mustn’t discriminate. UK legislation makes no difference between sexual orientation and the manifestation or practice of a certain sexual lifestyle.
Can you give concrete examples/case studies from your work where these freedoms are challenged? With other words: did the changes in the UK legislation really had such a negative effect on the freedom of faith and conscience?
As a result of equalities legislation Christians are being oppressed instead of having the freedom to exercise their beliefs freely. At the Christian Legal Centre we have 50 cases where Christians have been persecuted for practicing their beliefs. I will quickly inform you about a few of those cases:
Gary McFarlane, a relationships counsellor, was dismissed after refusing to counsel homosexual couples on their sex lives. Mr McFarlane was refused the opportunity to have his case heard at the Court of Appeal. Incredible and alarming statements about religious beliefs were made by Lord Justice Laws in his judgment given on 29 April of this year:
„The promulgation of law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot therefore be justified. It is irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective. But it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary. We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens; and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic”.
Then there is the case of Owen and Eunice Johns. Many prospective foster parents have been stopped from fostering children, including Eunice and Owen Johns, because of their Christian views on sexual ethics. The Johns were deprived of an opportunity to foster after they conceded that they would not promote homosexuality to a child in their care. The High Court upheld the right of Derby Council to stop the Johns from fostering children as their beliefs contravened the Council’s ‘equality and diversity’ policy. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission intervened in that particular case and said that children were at risk of being „infected” by Christian moral teachings.
Theresa Davies, a civil registrar was forced to resign from her job after refusing to register homosexual unions in the form of civil partnerships. Andrew McClintock was forced to resign as a magistrate after he challenged whether placing children with homosexual couples was in the best interests of the child. Sheila Matthews, a paediatrician, was dropped from the adoption panel because she believed that children up for adoption should not be placed with homosexual couples and do better with a mother and father. I could go on and on about many other cases as well, but I think you get the picture…
I do, although it sounds almost too bizarre to be true… Are there any other ways in which Christian values are challenged in UK legislation?
Yes. The starting point for answering this question is the Abortion Act of 1967. This Abortion Act was revolutionary when passed. Despite strong opposition, it legalised abortion within certain boundaries. Abortion was now legal when the mother’s life is at risk or the risk of physical or mental problems to the mother or the child was greater than if the pregnancy were terminated. Finally, it is legal if there exists a substantial chance that the child will suffer from severe physical and/or mental abnormalities.
Those who passed the Abortion Act thought its safeguards were adequate. However, it was permissive legislation. It crossed a clear moral boundary. It denied the principle that human life is sacred and created a bypass.
What happened when this law was passed? In 1966, the best estimate by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is that there were 14,600 abortions. By 1968, the number had increased to 23,641 in 8 months. By the Year 2000, 6 million abortions had been performed in the England and Wales since the Act was passed. Today, about 196,000 babies aborted every year in the UK. 1 every 2.68 minutes…
From 42½ years since that Act was passed, the abortion figure is now over 7 million. Abortion has been sanctioned under the guise of „serious physical abnormality” for nothing more than a cleft palate. The bypass, became and A road, the A road became a Dual carriageway and Dual carriageway became a Motorway. Today no-one describes abortion as anything other than a „ legitimate choice”, the idea of the need to justify it – an anachronism of a bygone morality.
What about bioethics?
We have seen some major changes in that area as well, negative changes unfortunately…
In 1990, Parliament passed the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (subsequently amended in 2001), which for the first time allowed the creation of embryos for scientific research for up to 14 days. This was a natural progression, because the 1967 Act had allowed the destruction of the embryo, the law would now permit the creation of an embryo with the intention of using it and then destroying it.
On 11th August 2004, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (created by the 1990 Act) granted Professor Alison Murdoch of the Newcastle Fertility Centre of Life a licence to create cloned human embryos. The law never stands still and once heading in a direction, it can just keep going. Ideas have unforeseen consequences.
But worse was yet to come with the passing of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. The Act allows: The creation of animal-human hybrids by mixing animal egg and human sperm, the selection of an embryo that will match a sick elder sibling’s DNA and create so-called „saviour siblings”. A child is therefore created with the function of providing „spare parts” for their sibling. Of course any embryo that does not match is destroyed. This new law always opens the door for genetic screening. For example, if they find a breast cancer gene, the embryo that contains it will be destroyed.
And the list goes on, the law allowsthe creation of fatherless children, when using IVF to create children, there no longer needs to be consideration of the child’s need for a father, we have seen the first lesbian couple sign a birth certificate as „parent” and „second female parent”. Actually, the laws are now relaxed enough to allow an embryo to be created that has genes from three parents!
As you can see, the human embryo has become nothing more than a product that can be made, copied, destroyed, harvested and sold – as people see fit. There is no respect for Human Dignity anymore, currently euthanasia is not allowed in the UK but I am afraid that this will change soon as well.
I am afraid that the situationconcerning traditional marriage in the UK is not much better, am I right?
Unfortunately I have to say yes… again. In the name of equality, UK law has changed in recent years and is giving increasing recognition to family relationships that do not involve marriage, in particular co-habitation and homosexuality. Heterosexual cohabitation rights became equivalent to heterosexual marriage rights. After this, homosexual couples said that their love is equivalent and should be protected in law. I will give you a few examples of what kind of laws have been implemented in the UK in the 21st century:
The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 gives legal recognition to a transsexual’s „acquired gender”, effectively allowing two people of the same actual gender to get married. And a man can get a birth certificate saying he was born a woman and vice versa- suppression of the truth.
The Civil Partnerships Act of 2004: allows same-sex couples to register their relationships as civil partnerships and to enjoy all the legal rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. This is same-sex marriage in all but name.
The Adoption Act 2004: allowed homosexual and lesbian couples to adopt children.
This trend culminated in the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, which redefined the terms „parent”, „mother” and „father”. Birth certificates can now say „parent” and „second female parent”. And organisations are encouraged to use the gender neutral term „partners” instead of „husband and wife”.
Unfortunately this is not only in the law but also been taught at schools. British schoolchildren learn that all types of sexual relationships are equally and morally valid and that there are no moral limits to sex. A leaflet published for children by the National Health Service Sheffield stated that „An orgasm a day is good for you as is eating 5 fruit and vegetables”.
What is very frightening however is that these ideas become protected ideas and the way in which the State can enforce such protection is by saying that if you speak out against such ideas you discriminate or are using „hate speech”. If you speak on behalf of life you are against women’s rights. That leads to a loss of freedom of speech and conscience in the public sphere.
In order to protect and promote these various ideas (ideas have consequences), the Government has introduced a whole raft of equality and diversity legislation, which has now been consolidated into one Act: The Equality Act 2010.
The situation concerning freedom of faith and conscience in the United Kingdom is obviously far from ideal. What kinds of actions do you want to undertake to protect these rights in the UK and how we can help you?
Well, first of all, we want the church in the UK to be faithful to Jesus Christ, and to wake up and speak against the marginalisation of Christians in the public sphere. I believe that if Europe as a whole remains faithful and stands up for the truth when Christian freedoms are challenged, we could win the continent back to Christ. The crisis is not in the coherence of Christianity, but in its perceived legitimacy to command national respect in the public arena, and we want to change this.
As part of our ongoing commitment to put the hope of Christ at the centre of the UK, Christian Concern is running several major campaigns on which I will elaborate a bit:
Equalities and Conscience Petition
Following the ruling on Christian foster parents Owen and Eunice Johns, Christian Concern has launched a major new petition, the Equalities and Conscience petition, calling on the Prime Minister to respect Christian conscience and take urgent action to address the problems created by equalities legislation. 100,000 signatures will get us a parliamentary debate, and 1 million signatures, a new Bill. The following cases are more examples of intolerance towards Christian beliefs.
Equal and Free
Sharia courts are currently in operation in the UK and are inherently discriminatory against women. We are supporting the Equal and Free campaign, being run to back Baroness Cox’s Bill to stop sharia law being used unjustly in the UK. We have rolled-out a programme of travelling road shows called ‘Awake Arise O Church’.
Christian Concern has developed an ‘Awake Arise’ day conference package that can be rolled out across the country during 2011 for groups of local churches in individual towns or cities.
Certain core sessions or modules will be the same for every programme, such as informing and empowering Christians to influence their local MP, to stand for election to the local council, to volunteer as governors of local schools or to become appointed as magistrates at the local courts.
The Not Ashamed campaign provides an opportunity for Christians across the UK to stand together and speak up for the Christian foundation of our nation, motivated by the conviction that Jesus Christ is good news not just for individuals or for the church but for society as a whole. Indeed, He is the only true hope for our nation.Christians will be encouraged to wear wristbands and t-shirts in public stating they are Not Ashamed to be a Christian.
The ‘Wilberforce’ programme will focus on raising up a new generation of Christians that is equipped and enthused for engagement in public life. Building on this year’s inaugural and very popular Wilberforce Academy, we are using the latest technology to develop a virtual community that will provide a strong relational network and robust resources to enable thousands to work together in the LORD’s strength to see society transformed. As the Wilberforce Academy continues we plan to develop a fully fledged internship and long-term mentoring programme to help develop the next generation of Christian pioneers and leaders across the spectrum of public life, including the media, politics, law and education.
What lessons other countries from Europe can learn from the situation in the UK in their battle to protect the freedom of faith and conscience and what steps should be done on international (European) level in order to protect these basic freedoms? Do you have a message to our readers concerning the freedom of faith and conscience?
The European Union seems to be trying to foist equalities legislation and a homosexual rights agenda onto many European Countries, especially Eastern European countries. However, such legislation in the UK has led to the suppression of speech and ideas, the coercion of behaviour and sanctions for those who disagree. We urge you to learn from the mistakes we have made. Do not let your nation slip into the situation we are in.
Truth has gradually been eroded from the public sphere over the last fifty years. The discrete alterations are subtle and almost imperceptible, but over time the transformation can be dramatic – even deadly. In the face of a subtle but kind sounding and constant change to a social and legal framework, it’s easy to ‘turn a blind eye’. The feeling of inevitability and impotence can quickly overwhelm us. Yet the temptation to think that way must be resisted by Christians. We know that the living God is righteous and cares deeply about the state of any society. We know too that He is both generous and powerful. He is able to bring hope.
In a new political era, we must keep on speaking of The Lord Jesus Christ to the nations to ensure that they do not turn away from Him. We need to be alert. The church throughout Europe needs to speak and resist when Christian freedoms are challenged. By remaining faithful and proclaiming the truth, we need to win the continent of Europe to Jesus Christ together. As Christians we know that only Jesus Christ can bring lasting peace and fullness of life to our continent and its communities.
I hope that the Christian concern and the Legal Centre can play a role in this, but certainly the work of a European organization as ECPM is also crucial in this. Yet, in the end it is up to all Christians in our societies to stand up for their beliefs and their rights!