Religion, law and the constitution

Balancing beliefs in Britain

How would you describe your personal religion or beliefs?

Christian. I think I’m pretty much run of the mill Christian.

Were you brought up with this religion/belief system? What made you choose it, or choose to remain within it if it was the religion/belief system you grew up with as a child?

My parents weren’t big church goers but they do have a faith. We were rather sort of Easter and Christmas Christians. Having said that when we were little my brother and I were sent off to Sunday school, although that may just have been so that my parents could have an hour to themselves! So I do have memories of going to Sunday school, so I heard a lot of stories there. And also I went to a very Christian school, so we had a lot of Scripture as it was called then instruction. Having said that it was probably fairly basic until I became a teenager and went to secondary school and became involved in the Christian Union that my faith became particular deep and meaningful. So it was really through an RE teacher and Christian Union at the school

Do you think that GB is an equal and tolerant society, particularly in relation to religion and belief systems? How do you think that it compares to other countries?

I think it is, yes, in relation to some other countries I think that people are pretty much allowed to practice their own faith, there is no overt persecution of any faith. So I think that we are pretty tolerant yes.

How easy is it for you to live in accordance with your personal beliefs in this country? Are there any challenges, and if so, are they social, political or legal?

I don’t feel persecuted, I think that to be a Christian is sometimes thought of as slightly twee in this country now and a little bit eccentric. We are no longer in a country where the majority of people are Christians, even though they may say that they are C of E if they go into hospital. That isn’t a sign that they have any deep meaningful…….that’s probably terribly judgmental but you know what I mean. No, I certainly feel persecuted and I think that there are no real barriers to me practising my faith, no.

Do you think that the Human Rights Act and an increased awareness of human rights have been a good or a bad thing for British society?

It’s got to be a good think, because there were areas of our society which we unfair to minority people in society, through race, sex, gender, sexual persuasion, the HRA has got to be a good thing to make society fairer.

Should religious individuals running businesses be allowed to discriminate in their treatment of employees and customers? For example, should hotels be allowed to restrict double-rooms to married heterosexual couples?

I find this one really, really difficult actually. I think if you are a big multinational company and employ lots of people it is wrong to discriminate for anything really….gender, race….that is absolutely true. The only thing where I would have slight sympathy, although this doesn’t mean that I was agree with their point of view. For example in the case of the people with their B&B, they obviously had very strong feelings about homosexuality and because it was their own business…..I would have thought, I’m not sure that it is fair to say that they have to accept anyone if it is their own little business, I would have thought that it was up to them to decide whether to rent their room to someone, so I’m slightly swayed by that, not I agree with their stance but I think that they had the right to do it.

Do you think that living in a democracy is a good thing?

Yes, definitely.

Given that we do live in a democracy, do you believe that you have a personal responsibility to vote? Why/why not?
I definitely think that everyone has a moral duty to vote, particularly women. That is probably due to the influence of my mother who constantly reminded me of the sacrifice of Emily Pankhurst. So I think it’s wrong not to vote, if you don’t bother to vote you don’t really have a right to question how the country is being run. Having said that, I think that there probably is scope for people who want to do a protest non-vote, so there should be scope for that.

Do you think that it is a problem that members of the House of Lords have a role in making law, but are not elected by the citizens? Why/why not?

I’m a bit dubious about the House of Lords, it’s a tricky one because I like the fact that the Church is represented, so that’s probably a bit one sided and prejudiced of me. But I don’t like the idea that just because you are Lord Someone and have a big house and have lived there for centuries that you should be able to have a say. I don’t think that a title should enable you to be in the House of Lords, but I do like the fact that bishops have a say, so that’s probably a difficult answer.

Obviously, most people in the House of Lords now are appointed rather than hereditary, does that make any difference?

I suppose it depends on who appoints them. I assume it is the government and therefore if they are simply appointing people sympathetic to their particular policies this is not really representative and I would have a problem with that. Unfortunately I do not know enough about the process of how they are appointed to give a very sensible answer.

Is it good or bad that some decisions which affect our State are made by devolved administrations (i.e. Scottish and Welsh assemblies)?

I don’t think that Scotland and Wales should be able to dictate policy in the UK, but they should be able to have more say on how they govern their own parts of the British Isles as well. Having said that I’m not keen on them separating them off, I would prefer to see the United Kingdom remain as a whole, for us all to say how our own parts should be governed, provided that it isn’t detrimental to the whole.

What responsibilities do you believe come with power and influence?

It could be argued that Simon Cowell has much power and influence simply because he has had a highly successful and lucrative television career and people see him as someone to aspire to. If you are in that position there is therefore perhaps a moral duty not to incite violence by an extreme view. Having said that, we live in a democracy and therefore cannot really dictate to people what their views should be.

What responsibilities do you think that all citizens, whether powerful or not, owe to the rest of society?

Certainly I think that people should be forbidden from doing publically, for example to be racially aggressive, to be prejudiced towards someone on the basis of their gender or sexual persuasion. I think that everyone should have to abide by those rules because those sort of prejudices are unjust and damaging. So I think that we all have a duty to avoid making someone’s life difficult or miserable. As long as people are not doing any harm to anyone else, for example selling drugs which is harmful to society and a threat to young and vulnerable people, but if you are living a life which is peaceful and not harming other people or the environment you should be pretty well left to your own devices.

Do you think that our politicians and leaders reflect society as a whole in terms of gender, race, religion, sexuality, age, social class and other factors? If not what, if anything, could or should be done about this?

I’m fairly certain there are far more men than women in government, so that should be addressed. Depending on the party, I’m sure that in the Conservative party there are probably a lot of people who’ve come from quite privileged backgrounds, although that’s probably a huge generalisation. I think that politicians should come from every background, race and gender. Having said that, you’ve got to make it attract to those from every type o background and make it possible. For example, I would say that most MPs would have to have a degree, which means that they would have to be in a positon to have received a good education. That doesn’t mean private education, but at least having access to a decent education.

Have you ever felt so strongly about a political or social situation that you personally wanted to campaign to change it? If so, what did you do and why? (E.g. writing to your MP, joining a demonstration)?

Yes often animal related. I’ve written letters, signed petitions etc. I’m involved with a planning application in the village where I live where they are threatening to build 5,000 houses on a Greenfield site. It is a part of the government drive for more houses and whilst I acknowledge that there is a desperate need for more housing and the problem must be addressed, it should not be at the expense of the countryside. It should be on brownfield sites or areas where it doesn’t impact on wildlife. My campaigning has only ever gone as far as attending meetings, writing letters and signing petitions.

In your experience of public authorities (e.g. councils, hospitals/medical staff, state school, the police) have their shown an appropriate level of awareness and respect towards your personal needs and beliefs? Have you felt that you have received the same level of consideration and accommodation as individuals of a different background (whether different in terms of religion, ethnicity or social class)?

I’m not sure that my approaches to MPs have ever actually involved mentioning my faith, so they may not have known I was a Christian. They probably just treated me as a concerned citizen. But that doesn’t mean to say that I wouldn’t if I felt that my position as a Christian was somehow threatened, or made difficult. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t go in as a Christian, I would do. I’ve always found the police helpful. My particular MP, although I don’t always agree with all of his policies he always replies very promptly and is very good about coming back. And the couple of times I have met him, he has been interested and seemed to listen to what I have to say. I’ve never had to complain about the hospital, the local one is very good so I’ve never had to.

Is it important for you personally always to act within the law? Why/why not? What circumstances, if any, justify (or maybe even necessitate) breaking the law?

Yes, I think there are times, particularly if something went against my faith….if there a choice between what I thought God was telling me to do and what I was being asked legally, I think that I would come down on the side of God. I think overall, it’s important that we do obey laws, we would have anarchy if not, so the normal run of the mill things should be obeyed….speeding and things. But it was a matter of conscience or someone was being unfairly treated, I could break the law if I thought that there was a higher law which was more important.

Do your beliefs require you to speak out against injustices affecting third parties, particularly the weak and vulnerable?

Well yes, my faith does incorporate my whole being, including my strong feelings about animals. The reason I would speak out against cruelty to animals is not only because I think it is morally wrong, but also because I think it is an offence to God. Animals are created beings and deserver our respect and compassion in the same way as my fellow humans do. I think it is the duty of a Christian to speak out for the weak and the vulnerable and those who have no voice, whether human or animal.

Do you think that the R of L is applied equally to everybody in U.K. society? Do some groups experience preferential or prejudicial treatment from the police or the justice system? How do you think that the UK compares to other countries in this regard?

I’ve had some experience with a good friend of mine who was going through a particularly acrimonious divorce. She was married to a barrister, who obviously had a vastly superior knowledge of the law and useful contacts to assist him. She had very little money of her own and did not know how the system worked. As a result she had a very difficult time and there seemed to be very little in the legal system to protect her interests. She had access to legal aid because she had no money of her own, but there was little in place for her protection against someone with more power and money and influence. I think that if you are poorly educated or have little money, I think that you are in a weak position. I’ve never had to call on legal aid, so it’s not first-hand experience, but that is my impression.

How do you feel about the general trend towards an increase in police powers and State surveillance which has taken place over the past 15 years or so? Has this been a necessary evil to cope with changing threats to security, or an overreaction?

I think that the police must be under tremendous pressure, if they do something wrong or miss someone their head is on the block, and people like the Daily Mail are very quick to jump in. Having said that, a friend of mine who is married to a Kurdish Muslim, he does seem to be……stopped for things like speeding, or pulled over or asked what he’s doing far more than other people I know. He is a very law abiding chap….it’s difficult to know. These are difficult times, when we are all asked to be vigilant, and the police have a hard time. Sympathy on both sides I think.

Is there anything else which you would like to tell us about your views on freedom and belief in contemporary Britain?

I think sometimes it is difficult to have a point of view, particular about religion, without being labelled as somebody who is bigoted or prejudiced in some way. So…..whilst obviously there have to be laws in place to stop you being unpleasantly prejudiced, sometimes it is difficult to have a point of view without having that point of view belittled or labelled as something, which I think is unfortunate. So I can see how some people may think that we have almost gone too much the other way, so I can see why some people say that Christians are almost the persecuted ones. I haven’t had much first-hand experience of that but I know people who have said that allowances are made if you are of another faith, more so than if you are a Christian.

Sam Chandler is married with three children (two teenagers and one young adult). She is a Christian and attends her local Anglican church. She is passionate about animal welfare and is Secretary of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals. She shares her home with a small flock of rescued sheep, a neurotic terrier and two guinea pigs. She also enjoys wandering around art galleries – particularly Tate Modern and going to the theatre.