Eric Pickles – Fidei defensor
His Grace likes Eric Pickles, the spirited and upright Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and has said so numerous times (like here, here, here, here, here, here and here). Mr Pickles appears to be the only politician in the Cabinet who fully grasps not only the fons et origo of our religious liberties, but the likely implications and undoubted consequences of David Cameron’s ‘Heir-to-Blair’ pursuit of the human rights equality agenda: the trajectory is fixed and inescapable.
Two articles in yesterday's Telegraph are worth noting. In one, Mr Pickles writes that ‘A Christian ethos strengthens our nation’; the other offers some analysis of an important section of that article, namely that ‘Churches “need gay marriage safeguards”’.
We know, of course, that David Cameron needs to do a little work if he is to regain the trust and confidence of Christians. The Church of England has long been known as the Conservative Party at prayer, but the Prime Minister seems intent on treating it as though it were the Conservative Party at Blair. He pontificates, lectures and criticises the Church under the guise of spiritual sincerity and theological integrity. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that he is setting us on an inexorable course toward disestablishment.
So, in a timely and robust intervention, Eric Pickles reminds us that ‘Christianity in all its forms has shaped the heritage, morality and public life of Britain’. His Grace won’t quote at length further: please read the articles for yourselves. Except to observe this (very rare) reference: ‘...the Reformation is entwined with British political liberty and freedoms...’
One simply no longer hears politicians ever lauding the historical significance and constitutional importance of the Reformation. By doing so, Mr Pickles risks being accused of penning an 'historically illiterate piece of propaganda' (at best), or (at worst) of being an ‘anti-Catholic bigot'. But he needn’t worry: his job is safe.
Occasionally it is as though Mr Pickles were channelling the spirit of His Grace; indeed, one wonders if Mr Pickles is an avid reader of His Grace's august blog of religio-political erudition. The following section in particular is a bold assertion that all religions are not equal: Christianity in this country is pre-eminent:
Nor should we allow equality laws to open the door to moral relativism and reduce established religion to the equivalent status of any other belief. We should not be bashful about asserting that the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church have a greater role to play in the public life of our nation than the Church of Elvis or the Church of Scientology.He probably added ‘Roman Catholic Church’ to be diplomatic and mitigate allegations of bigotry. But if you replace ‘Church of Elvis’ with ‘Islam’, you will see the inescapable logic (and potential offence) of this particular statement: all religions are not equal; Christianity is more equal than all the rest syncretised together.
But to the observation that ‘churches must have clear legal protections to ensure that they cannot be forced by the European Court of Human Rights to marry homosexual couples’.
If David Cameron proceeds down the ‘because-I’m-a-Conservative’ path of allowing homosexual couples the right to marry, it will not be possible, under EU equalities legislation, to prevent a stream of vexatious litigation against (most likely) the Church of England. You won’t find many aggressive homosexualists or fundamentalist gayers having a go at the Roman Catholic Church or the local mosque: the target, consistently, will be the Established Church, precisely because it is a branch of government.
Mr Pickles notes: “There are legitimate fears of European Court of Human Rights challenges and churches being forced down the line to conduct such ceremonies against their wishes. These concerns need to be explicitly addressed in any legislative reform to provide safeguards against such coercion.”
This being the case, and evidently recognised by at least one Government minister, His Grace asks quite simply: “What, short of UK derogation from the ECHR and repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010, can explicitly guarantee and safeguard Christian religious liberty?”