Religion and politics news

Tuesday 9 March 2010
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From now until the election we will bring you this new feature that lets you know how, when and where religion is attempting to sway the political process:

1. Islamists’ infiltration tactics An alarming edition of Channel 4’s Dispatches programme this week revealed the extent to which a radical Islamist group has successfully infiltrated the Labour Party in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and extremist groups have been granted substantial sums of public money, ironically from the budget to fight extremism. If you missed it, you can see it again at the Channel 4 website. Read about it here .

Meanwhile, in Scotland, an Islamic group that has received hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants from the SNP-controlled Government is under investigation for not filing accounts at Companies House. The Scottish Islamic Foundation has received something in the region of £400,000 in grants with no discernible product. It was forced to pay back £128,000 funding for an Islamic festival that never took place. It now faces calls from opposition MSPs for an investigation by the Auditor General into its activities. The group’s chief executive is Osama Saeed, a protegé of Alec Salmond. Mr Saeed is standing as a parliamentary candidate in the Glasgow Central ward and is hoping to overturn a Labour majority of 8,531.

Labour MSP Lord George Foulkes said: "Recent months have seen almost weekly disclosures which show this is a shocking use of public money." David McLetchie, for the Tories, added: "The time has come for an independent investigation into the activities of this taxpayer-funded organisation."

2. Christians put up candidates The Christian People’s Alliance says that it will organise parliamentary candidates across the South-West of England. It will have a lot of work to do, though, to make any impact. In the European Elections last year, the Christian Party "Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship", which stood in the South-West region, received 1.4% of the vote.

3. Former archbishop claims politicians are "marginalising and bullying" Christianity Joining the push to force religion into the election, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, said this week that politicians are trying to "bully Christianity out of public life."

He claimed there was a "strident and bullying" campaign to "marginalise Christianity in the name of political correctness." Lord Carey said: "We have reached the point where politicians are mocked for merely expressing their faith. I cannot imagine any politician expressing concern that Britain should remain a Christian country. That reticence is a scandal and a disgrace to our history."

Lord Carey told a meeting organised by the Christian Broadcasting Council in the House of Lords: "Christianity, which has given so much to our country, is now being sidelined as never before as though it is a stranger to our nation." He told Christians to stand up for their faith and "be more assertive when their heritage is attacked." He said: "If we behave like doormats, don’t be surprised if we are treated as though we are. It is time to return to the public square."

He then trotted out the usual litany of cases that "prove" Christians are being persecuted – from the BA cross woman to the Islington registrar who refused to do her job properly and was disciplined.

Olave Snelling, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Council, said: "We have the duty of telling the stories of those suffering persecution for their faith overseas and now, it seems, in Great Britain also. Pressure is building against Christians in what was once a Christian land."

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "Lord Carey whines and rants about supposed persecution of Christians in Britain, but he fails to mention his own privileged place in the House of Lords or the 26 other bishops who sit there by right, despite church attendance having been plummeting for over a century. He doesn’t mention that the Church of England has almost a third of the education system under its control with all running expenses paid from public funds, nor that that the Prime Minister, the Head of State and the Director General of the BBC are all enthusiastic Christians. Neither does he mention the tens of millions of pounds that the taxpayer pours into the coffers of the Church of England and other churches and religious groups, nor the tax advantages that the church receives nor the media attention that his utterances enjoy.

"It is quite clear he will not be happy until the Church of England is back where he thinks it should belong – right at the heart of the Government. But democracy now rules and people can think for themselves. Christianity is being rejected quite voluntarily by the people of this country, and he should not try to force them back into church with his own bullying and blackmailing tactics."

Mr Sanderson said that "Christians are, indeed, being persecuted in other parts the world, and we regret that. Carey is so obsessed about blaming secularists, it seems to have blinded him to the reality that the perpetrators are his fellow religionists, and according to the independent reports I have seen, the persecution is in Muslim countries. See this for evidence and this. "Lord Carey should be ashamed of claiming religious persecution in Britain – it belittles the real persecution that is happening abroad, which we regret every bit as much as he does," said Sanderson.

4. Brighton priest joins attack on politicians’ lack of adherence to Vatican’s will A priest in Brighton says none of the main political parties are offering anything for Christians to vote for. Father Ray Blake, of the Catholic St Mary Magdelene Church says he used to vote Labour, as most priests in the Catholic Church did. But now, taking up the cudgels provided by Cardinal Keith O’Brien in Scotland, he says Labour’s policies are "contrary... not only to Catholic teaching but to the very spirit of the Christian faith" – and the Conservatives, Greens and Liberal Democrats are little better. Read more Labour and Tories battle it out about "Christian family values"

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