Pope to take on equality law while visiting Britain

by Peter Wozniak

Britain’s equality laws shouldn’t overshadow Christians’ rights to express their religion, the Pope will imply in a speech on Friday.

Media reports indicate the head of the Catholic Church will not stray into overt criticism of the government which is hosting him, but he will suggest that Christians ought to be allowed the religious freedom to, for example, wear crucifixes at work.

The comments are likely to stoke controversy over Britain’s equality laws. Earlier this year, Chris Grayling faced outrage when he defended two Christian B&B owners who refused a room to a couple on the basis that they were gay.

Mr Grayling was subsequently demoted to junior minister in the new government.

The apparent attack on the UK’s equality laws will further inflame passions around the visit, the first of its kind in 28 years.

The Pope is visiting UK in his capacity as head of state of the Vatican City, rather than as the head of the Catholic Church, so the trip is being allocated taxpayer funding – a decision vehemently opposed by campaigners.

The pontiff will begin his visit of Britain on Thursday in Edinburgh, give the speech in Westminster Hall on Friday, and then remain in London to give a speech in Twickenham to youth groups, ending the weekend in Birmingham.

The ‘Protest the Pope’ campaign, consisting of numerous humanist, secular and human rights organisations, will hold protests on Friday and Saturday.

The groups have argued that the Pope’s trip should not be treated as a state visit given his role as a religious leader and the Catholic Church’s stance on issues including abortion, contraception and homosexuality. Many are also incensed by reports that child abuse in the Church was systematically covered up by the authorities.

A spokesperson for the British Humanist Association said: “It is frustrating that the Pope is again seeking to impose his views and the illiberal policies of his state on our democratic laws.

“Far from restricting religious freedom, equality laws seek to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals in our society, including the right for people not be discriminated against on grounds of their religious or non-religious beliefs.

“The Pope may falsely decry our laws as somehow marginalising Christians but what he is actually seeking is for religious people to be allowed to discriminate against others in employment, services, education and many other areas, unfettered by the laws that everyone else in society must abide by and respect.”

Recent polls have indicated that the Church’s views on these issues are not widely shared by British Catholics, though 70% believed the visit would improve the image of the Catholic Church in this country.