Defend Christian freedoms in the public square

Paul Diamond(Photo: Paul Diamond)

Paul Diamond, a senior solicitor in the UK, has over 30 years experience representing Christians before the High Court, Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights.

He was a permanent council member of the Keep Sunday Special Campaign in 1988 and then of the Christian Legal Center from 2008 to 2018, during which time he was involved in a number of high-profile cases involving Christians.

He tells Christian Today why he decided to abandon his broader practice and focus on the rights of Christians to show their faith in the public square.

CT: Why did you decide to focus full time on Christian rights?

Paul: I think we are coming to a very scary stage in Britain where there are clear authoritarian tendencies and a total collapse of trust in government. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the country so hostile to Christianity – and so divided, for example on issues like Covid. We don’t have to go too far to see how some companies have gone off the rails, so we’re in very choppy waters right now.

CT: Looking at all the cases involving Christians over the years, would it be fair to say that there has been an escalation in discrimination?

Paul: There certainly were. The country is becoming very secular. Paganism is growing, as are other religions that have their own values ​​and their own sense of right and wrong. And the Church, unfortunately, lacks proper leadership; he just wasn’t there. And so there’s been this proliferation of pretty extreme conspiracy theories. But when you look at what is happening, for example with the introduction of LGBT education to 3 year olds, it is not being done by some secret international organization. It’s our own government that does it because it thinks it’s politically expedient and it’s going to win votes.

So there has certainly been an escalation of discrimination against Christians, but I also think we need to be smart about how we respond to this and avoid some kind of senseless “whipping”. There is reasonable resistance and many practical things we can do to respond, such as parents coming together or Christians choosing to run as principals. There are many sensible approaches we can take instead of pleading helplessness and discouraging some people.

CT: You recently contacted the police to suggest a “street preacher’s charter” to prevent the arrest of evangelists. What motivated this?

Paul: There are things we can say about certain issues that qualify as hate speech, but if you say something against, say, Trump, Israel, or Christians, it suddenly becomes “free speech.”

In the recent case of Harry Miller, for example, the police came to his place of work and were said to want to check his thinking.

With street preachers what tends to happen is that they are arrested but not prosecuted, but this still has a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

The police are very busy and are under incredible awake pressure, but there is also a lot of goodwill among the police. There are many good policemen who work hard and want to make society better.

They don’t necessarily know what the law says about freedom of speech and the different protected groups, because the law on this is quite complex, so a charter would make it clear what they can and cannot do in terms of freedom of expression, and that there is the freedom, under the law, to express differing views on issues such as homosexuality and abortion.

CT: Many cases involving Christians relate to the workplace. Would a similar charter be useful to employers?

Paul: When you look at an authoritarian state, it is the government and government employees who silence people. But in many ways we have already gone beyond an authoritarian state because we now have private corporations that are even more extreme than governments! Previously, it was the corporations that were hostile to the government. Now they seem to be working in conjunction with the government! So we see, for example, social media platforms removing anyone they don’t like – including many Christians – and silencing free speech. And we see the same with employers.

One of the cases in which I was involved was that of Nadia Eweida against British Airways. This is a huge company, working with some of the biggest law firms, which introduced a policy which meant that staff could wear religious items like turbans and hijabs, but not a waist cross. of a fivepence coin or the Jewish Star of David. It defies the imagination.

But to give an indication of the state of affairs in Britain, I’ve been involved in a few cross cases over the years and in total 13 UK judges up to the Supreme Court have ruled against the cross saying that it was just a piece of jewelry and that there was no discrimination because if a Muslim wore one they would be treated the same. It took a Polish judge – someone from a former communist country – at the European Court of Human Rights to rule that the cross is a Christian symbol.

Another case in point was Gary McFarlane, who was fired as a marriage counselor because he wanted to be exempt from working with same-sex couples. It would have been a simple matter of accommodation, but instead he was fired for gross misconduct – the worst kind of behavior.

What amazes me in all this is that these Christian employees are very often the best. They are good, upright and honest people whom employers would have rushed to hire 50 years ago. You would think employers would be desperate not to lose them.

CT: Many cases involving street pastors and Christians are linked to hate speech and hate crime laws. Should these statutes be removed from the statute books?

Paul: Yes, they should. The problem with these laws is that they are inconsistent. No one really knows what a hate crime is. And the laws aren’t applied consistently, so they end up not solving the real problems, but rather creating more problems. The law must apply neutrally and fairly to all. But all of this generally reflects a weakening of the Christian foundations of our society as there is no longer agreement on what is right or wrong.

CT: From time to time there are victories where the courts go in favor of Christians, so do you have any hope that the current climate can change for the better?

Paul: Yes, and that’s why I want to dwell on it more. You may not like Christian opinions, but just because you don’t like someone’s opinions doesn’t mean you have to silence them. Many allies, even from non-Christian backgrounds, would support this position.

CT: Lord Carey recently asked you to work to facilitate the arrival of refugees from religious minorities, including Afghan Christians, in the UK. How’s it going?

Paul: This was in fact a very serious failing of the Church. In Afghanistan, there are about 12,000 Christians, all converted to Islam and labeled as apostates, who are being hunted down by the Taliban and have nowhere to go. All the countries in the region, be it Pakistan, Iran, etc., are all quite extreme Islamic states and in each of these countries Afghan Christians will be considered apostates. If we can even get a handful of these Christians out, it would be better than nothing.

CT: Looking ahead, where do you see more legal battles? Do you see a frontline emerging?

Paul: For me, there are two emerging front lines. One is the use of professional conduct committees. We see more and more of these non-legal professional bodies going against teachers, doctors, lawyers and saying you can’t practice your profession because of your beliefs.

The other front line may just be my personal view, but there is growing cooperation between the media and the government in a way very similar to Russia. If you look at Russia, Putin controls several television channels. You can stand on a soapbox in Moscow, but you can’t really get your ideas across.

Here in the UK we have all the private actors singing from the same hymnal and producing the same programs. I’m worried about this because it doesn’t just affect Christians. If people can’t make themselves heard, they might get desperate.

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