Interview: the former attorney general says he fears that ‘aggressive’ secularism is pushing the Christian ‘faith out of the public space’
Britain is at risk of being “sanitised” of faith because an “aggressive form of secularism” in workplaces and public bodies is forcing Christians to hide their beliefs, a former attorney general has warned.
Dominic Grieve said he found it “quite extraordinary” that people were being sacked or disciplined for expressing their beliefs at work.
He described Christianity as a “powerful force for good” in modern Britain and warned that Christians should not be “intimidated” and “excluded” for their beliefs.
He said that politicians and public figures should not be afraid of “doing God” and that they have a duty to explain how their beliefs inform their decisions.
The “appalling” scenes in Iraq, which have seen Islamic extremists behead and crucify religious minorities including Christians, showed that it was “more important than ever” for people to express their religious beliefs, he said.
He told The Telegraph: “I worry that there are attempts to push faith out of the public space. Clearly it happens at a level of local power.
“You can watch institutions or organisations do it or watch it happen at a local government level. In my view it’s very undesirable.
“Some of the cases which have come to light of employers being disciplined or sacked for simply trying to talk about their faith in the workplace I find quite extraordinary.
“The sanitisation will lead to people of faith excluding themselves from the public space and being excluded.
“It is in nobody’s interest that groups should find themselves excluded from society.” Two years ago the Government changed the law to ensure that councils could not face legal challenges for holding prayers before town hall meetings after the High Court backed a controversial campaign to abolish such acts of worship.
There have also been a series of high-profile cases in which people have been banned from wearing crosses at work or sacked for resisting tasks which went against their religious beliefs.
Mr Grieve, a practising Anglican, said that Britain is “underpinned” by Christian ethics and principles.
He criticised the Tony Blair era when Alastair Campbell, the then communications director in Downing Street, famously said “we don’t do God” amid concerns that religion would put off voters.
David Cameron once described his own faith as being like “Magic FM in the Chilterns”, meaning it can come and go.
However, earlier this year the Prime Minister said he has found greater strength in religion and suggested that Britain should be unashamedly “evangelical” about its Christian faith.
Mr Grieve said: “I think politicians should express their faith. I have never adhered to the Blair view that we don’t do God, indeed I’m not sure that Blair does. I think that people with faith have an entitlement to explain where that places them in approaching problems.
“I think that those of us who are politicians and Christians should be in the business of doing it.
“It doesn’t mean that we have the monopoly of wisdom, but I do think Christianity has played an enormous role in shaping this country.
“It’s a very powerful force in this country [but] I think it’s underrated, and partly because in the past it has failed to express itself as clearly as it might.
“Recognising people’s right to manifest their faith and express it is very important.”
Mr Grieve lost his post in government during the reshuffle last month after objecting to plans to give MPs powers to veto decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights.
He said that while he was “sad” to lose his job he did not complain because he took an “old fashioned” approach: “If someone doesn’t want your services, they don’t want your services.”
He warned that the increasingly “capricious” European Commission was attempting to make a “land grab” with a growing number of challenges to government policies on freedom of movement and benefits.
He said: “I think there’s some support at a European Union level for the criticism that the European Commission is capricious and inconsistent on this issue. If we can mobilise that support it might help us obtain support for the reforms the Prime Minister wants.”
He also said that Britain must ask Israel to justify its actions in Gaza after the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including children.
Baroness Warsi resigned as a foreign office minister earlier this month in protest at the Government’s failure to confront Israel over the conflict.
He said: “We are not acting as good friends to Israel if we do not highlight our view as to whether we think they are doing the right thing.
“I have come across very few colleagues in government who are comfortable with what has been going on over the last few weeks. Killing large numbers of children in UN schools which are supposed to be havens of safety is a very unfortunate event to take place and I think needs an explanation.”
As attorney general, Mr Grieve also had to respond to concerns that the RSPCA was becoming politicised with its repeated private prosecutions of hunts. He wrote to the charity asking it to consider appointing a lawyer to review its private prosecution policy.
He said he was concerned that the charity has been prosecuting “vulnerable” individuals unnecessarily. He said: “I found it difficult to see that the public interest supported prosecutions at all. These are people who, because of age or lack of education, would not have a pet put down when it got old because they were so attached to it.
“Obviously, there’s also an issue as to the proportionality of its prosecution policy with hunts.
“One would hope that one would not see prosecutions taking place for matters which appear to be purely capricious or indeed simply a way of forcing individuals to spend vast sums of money in their defence when the case against them is paltry or trivial.”
Mr Grieve is MP for Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, where many of his constituents are opposed to the proposed High Speed 2 line because it will pass through or close to their homes.
“Constructing HS2 will have a negative environmental impact on my constituency. There is also wider concern about whether in fact this project is good value for money,” said Mr Grieve.
“There is no business case for it. I don’t think any private investor would ever be in a position to finance this project.”
Compensation packages on offer for those affected were insufficient, he added.
“Only those living very close to where the line is going will be bought out. Once you are beyond that small margin you still have to buy another house and pay stamp duty, which is a very substantial financial burden,” he said.