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Church of England: Labour's equality law denies Christians right to oppose homosexuality

UK Daily Mail | September 7, 2007
STEVE DOUGHTY

Labour's latest equality law will deprive Christians of the right of free speech, the Church of England has warned.

The Single Equality Bill could force vicars to conduct weddings for sex-change brides, deprive Christians of the right to oppose homosexuality and make church schools promote gay lifestyles in lessons, said the Archbishops' Council.

Church charities may also be barred from saying grace before meals or displaying crucifixes, it claimed.

The CofE document - endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams - warned that the Bill attempts to suppress freedom of speech and "amounts to an enforced secularism that fails to respect religious belief at all".

The fierce response is the latest in a series of clashes between religious leaders and the Government over equality rules applying to minority groups whose behaviour Christians have always held as morally wrong.

Churches are already lined up in opposition to the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which came into force earlier this year.

These give homosexuals the right, among others, to sue Christians who refuse to rent church halls to gay organisations.

The Single Equality Bill - which is going through a consultation stage that ends this month - has been advertised as an attempt to simplify 40 years of legislation on race, sex and disability prejudice and gather hugely complex existing law under a single piece of legislation.

Publicity surrounding it has centred on the way it will allow nursing mothers to breastfeed in public.

Other clauses will prevent golf clubs or working men's clubs from giving women second class status.

But the Archbishops' Council, the CofE's ruling Cabinet, said the new law will go much further and have far-reaching effects for large sections of society.

Freedom of speech for Christians could be harmed by clauses strengthening the criminal law of harassment, it warned.

Christian charities and organisations face "a real risk of challenges to the use of religious practices such as grace before meals or religious symbols such as crucifixes".

Rules on harassment also mean that religious followers may not "be able to express the views of their faith about homosexual conduct, including challenging people to live lives consistent with the teaching of the Church".

The document adds: "To deny Christians such a right would amount to unjustified interference with the right to manifest religious belief."

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