Christianity is being wiped out from public life in the name of equality, the Archbishop of York said yesterday.
Dr John Sentamu accused politicians and others of trying to sideline religion by promoting their false idea of ‘tolerance’.
He cited Labour’s equality laws as an attack on the freedoms of churches.
Attempts to denigrate church schools and ban the mention of Christmas in favour of bland ‘Winterval’ celebrations were also part of a drive to censor Christianity, he said.
The Archbishop’s comments followed the Pope’s unprecedented attack on Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill earlier this week.
Benedict XVI called the proposed legislation ‘unjust’, saying it restricted religious freedom and violated ‘the natural law’Â -Â in other words, Christian teaching.
Dr Sentamu said in a speech in Newcastle: ‘For all our judicial tolerance, Britain has become in many ways a less tolerant society today.
‘One of the main areas in which we see this is in the Government’s treatment of religion, which they now prefer to call ” faith communities”.
‘The Equality Bill which is going through the House of Lords had contained a clause which would have made it very difficult for a religious group to employ someone of the religion for a position within their organisation.
‘A church wishing to employ a youth worker would have been unable to advertise for Christians, and priests from other parts of the world would find it increasingly difficult to preach or work in churches here unless it could be demonstrated that there were no suitable local candidates.’
The Archbishop declared: ‘This is symptomatic of a trend which has intensified in Britain over the past 50 years in the name of tolerance. That is, an attempt to remove religion from public life.
‘And in the process, tolerance, which is supposed to be a tool to help us deal with difference and disagreement, has instead become a negative virtue, a means of diminishment and marginalisation.’
Dr Sentamu said some people wanted to relegate the church to a place only in the private lives of its members.
‘a process of ghetto-isation at work in a ferocious and insidious way’
Such critics, he said, wanted to censor the phrase ‘church schools’ and replace it with ‘faith schools’. The Archbishop said this was ‘a process of ghetto-isation at work in a ferocious and insidious way’.
He said: ‘They are the ones who would ban talk of Christmas in public places and would advocate a bland Winterval instead.
‘They are not all hostile to religions in general or the Christian religion in particular. They simply don’t want it in the public square.’
Dr Sentamu, who is second in the hierarchy of the Church of England, was last month fiercely critical of Miss Harman’s Equality Bill, telling the House of Lords ‘that way lies ruin’.
Equality minister Miss Harman has dropped the most controversial clauses of her legislation following a vote against them by peers.
Earlier this week Dr Sentamu spoke out against easing the rules on assisted suicide prosecutions. The clarity of his views have made him increasingly command more attention than the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Although Dr Williams shares many of his colleague’s apprehensions about the way Christianity is being sidelined, his advocacy of controversial policies such as the recognition of Islamic sharia law have undermined his popularity.Â
In his ‘City of Peace’ lecture yesterday, Dr Sentamu said public debate was discouraged on ‘key areas which are seen as difficult’, such as religion, immigration and the optimum funding for public services.
‘In consequence, these areas of difference are thrust into the margins where they do not go away but instead tend to fester,’ he said.
He called for people to show ‘gracious magnanimity’Â -Â which tries to understand other people’s point of viewÂ -Â rather than tolerance in the way it has become understood.