Interview with Andrea Williams, Christian Concern & Christian Legal Centre (UK)
“FOR SA is a critical work in the history of South Africa raised up for such a time as this. I am praying the Lord will continue to prosper this work for His Kingdom purposes in South Africa, and that we will see South Africa flourish under God.”
– Andrea Williams, Founder of Christian Concern & Christian Legal Centre (UK)
FOR SA’s Legal Counsel (Adv. Nadene Badenhorst) spent a week at the offices of Christian Concern and Christian Legal Centre (www.christianconcern.com) in London, to engage with and learn from this dynamic organisation who has been at the forefront of fighting for the religious freedom of Christians in the United Kingdom for the last fourteen years. During this time, Nadene also met with Paul Diamond, Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre who has appeared in and successfully defended a host of religious liberty cases before the UK courts as well as the European Court of Human Rights, in Cambridge where he keeps chambers.
In this article, Nadene Badenhorst interviews Andrea Williams, the Founder of Christian Concern and Christian Legal Centre and a woman who is passionate about making every day count for Jesus, regarding the organisation’s work to protect religious freedom and the challenges that Christians around the world (including South Africa) are facing in this regard.
Nadene: How did Christian Concern and Christian Legal Centre come about?
Andrea: The organisations were a response to the growing tide of legislation and policy aimed at undermining Biblical values and the historic freedoms for which the UK is renowned across the world.
Nadene: Tell us about the work of Christian Concern and Christian Legal Centre.
Andrea: Christian Concern campaigns in law, media, and politics for a Christian vision of society which protects life, promotes family, and preserves liberty. We equip the church to speak of Jesus Christ as the hope for our nation and aim to see our culture transformed at every level by the power of the gospel. We have spearheaded a number of successful campaigns such as Not Ashamed, Choose Life and Awake Arise, aimed at restoring the Church’s confidence in gospel truth. We have around 80,000 supporters that we’re regularly in touch with via email and social media. We are able to call upon our supporters to act and to speak of Jesus and His Truth in public life on any number of campaigns.
Christian Concern runs alongside and complements the work of its sister organisation, the Christian Legal Centre, which defends the freedom of Christians to live out their faith freely in public life. The Centre was founded in response to a growing number of Christians who were facing dismissal from employment, disciplinary action, or obstacles to providing services such as foster care, simply because of their Christian faith.
Nadene: Why is an organisation like this important? Is religious freedom under attack – in the UK and worldwide?
Andrea: Yes. The current equalities and human rights framework in the UK has resulted in increasing restrictions on the freedom of Christians to manifest and live out their faith freely in public life. In the name of ‘equality’, there is increasing pressure on Christians to privatise their faith and many have been excluded from participation in certain areas of public life on account of their Christian convictions. Since its formal inception in 2008, the Christian Legal Centre have dealt with hundreds of Christian freedom queries and has taken on some of the most important Christian freedom cases in the last decade. The cases often attract national and international media attention and detailed academic analysis because of their prominence in the area of fundamental freedoms. We have represented among others:
- Christians who have been dismissed from their jobs for attempting to live by, or simply expressing the legitimate view that marriage can only be between one man and one woman;
- Christians who have been refused permission to foster children because of their refusal to affirm same-sex lifestyles to a young child in their care;
- Street preachers who have been arrested and detained for preaching the gospel in public places; and
- University Christian Unions that have been opposed for attempting to run their groups in line with Christian principles.
Nadene: With regard to the attack on religious freedom, who specifically is at threat?
Andrea: The difficulty is that modern political thought is being dominated not by Christian principles, but by liberal secular humanism, exemplified in the equalities legislation of the past decade. For instance, in the name of equality, UK law has changed to give increasing recognition to family relationships that do not involve marriage as traditionally understood – the Civil Partnership Act 2004 gave homosexual couples the same legal rights and privileges as married heterosexual couples, whilst the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 extended the institution of marriage to homosexual couples. As this new morality is enforced by the State, Christians are finding that their freedom to simply express or live in line with the belief that marriage can only be between one man and one woman, and that this is the only proper context for sexual expression, is being increasingly restricted.
We are also witnessing an erosion of freedom of expression on the basis of a perceived ‘right’ not to be offended, which has presented increasing challenges to the public proclamation of Biblical doctrine. For instance, a number of street preachers have also been wrongfully arrested and detained under ‘hate crime’ legislation for speaking about the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexual ethics. One example is the arrest of street preacher, Mike Overd, who was recently convicted of a public order offence for speaking about the Bible’s teaching on homosexual practice. He successfully appealed against the decision with the help of the Christian Legal Centre.
Other trends include the increasing use of ‘equality and diversity’ policies by employers to penalise Christians for sharing their faith or offering to pray with colleagues, clients and patients. Again, UK Courts have been largely unsympathetic to Christians in such cases, and have refused to make findings of discrimination on the grounds of religious belief.
Christians have also faced increasing restrictions on their religious freedom when seeking to ‘manifest their faith’, whether by upholding the Sabbath or wearing/displaying a cross. In ‘manifestation of belief’ cases, the law has been applied asymmetrically so that Christians are afforded less protection than adherents of other faiths. For instance, Christian Legal Centre client Shirley Chaplin was denied permission to wear a visible cross on the basis of a new uniform policy, whilst allowance was made for the religious dress (including jewellery) of other colleagues. UK Courts considered that the claimant’s treatment was a justified response to ‘health and safety’ requirements despite the fact that no such risk was ever established, and the religious dress of other employees arguably posed a greater risk to ‘health and safety’ than the claimant’s cross. The Courts in this case went further by refusing to engage Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’) on the basis that, since wearing the cross was not a mandatory requirement of the Christian faith, it was not protected by Article 9. The case went to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the wearing of a cross was in fact a manifestation of the Christian faith. Despite this, the Court refused to find in favour of Shirley on the basis that UK Courts had acted within their ‘margin of appreciation’ – thereby rendering the protections afforded by Article 9 ineffective.
For more details about these cases, please see our Case Summaries document: http://www.christianconcern.com/sites/default/files/clc_case_summaries_v7.pdf
Religious Freedom in South Africa
“We at Christian Concern have been at the forefront of resisting the trend and defending those who are punished for seeking to uphold Christian Truth in the public space. Our story will be your story. We want you to win the battles we have lost for the sake of your country by identifying them early and overcoming them.”
Nadene: Is religious freedom under threat in South Africa and do we need to be concerned?
Andrea: In the United Kingdom, we have seen how quickly cherished freedoms can be lost. This can happen very quickly. It occurred here under the Blair/Brown led governments where secular humanism, clothed in the language of ‘equality, rights and freedom’ became the ideology underpinning new legislation and social policy.
We at Christian Concern have been at the forefront of resisting the trend and defending those who are punished for seeking to uphold Christian Truth in the public space. Our story will be your story. We want you to win the battles we have lost for the sake of your country by identifying them early and overcoming them.
South Africa is key to the continent of Africa. Where she goes, the continent will go. This makes it all the more important for South Africa to resist the liberal ideology of the West. This ideology has seen the Biblical design for marriage and the family eroded in the name of ‘equality’, with different family arrangements now being regarded as equally valid. Abortion is available in our nation ‘on demand’, with the lives of thousands of unborn children been ended every year under the illusion of reproductive ‘choice’. Let’s speak of a spiritual and moral revolution; the manifesto of hope that doesn’t just save individuals, but families, communities, nations, even continents.
Nadene: What is your message to Christians and the Church in SA? How should we respond to the threat to our religious freedom?
Andrea: The church needs to get ready for the pressure South Africa will inevitably face to follow the trends we have seen in the West. The UK is an example of how quickly the moral landscape of a nation can change. The church needs to speak of Jesus where His Truth is under attack and not shy away from the ‘difficult issues’ – to see them as Gospel issues and not secondary issues.