Ann Widdcombe: Christians had less freedom of speech than Nazis in postwar Britain
Last updated at 10:41AM, June 8 2014
Ann Widdecombe has said that “quite militant secularism” and concerns over political correctness have left many Christians afraid to express their faith.
The former Tory cabinet minister, who is a Roman Catholic, said that intolerance towards the faith and legislation on equality made it “very difficult” to be an active Christian in modern-day Britain.
Outspoken atheists were also undermining the principle of “freedom of conscience”, making it a more hostile environment than for Nazis in Britain after the Second World War, she said.
“Christians now have quite a lot of problems, whether it’s that you can’t display even very discreet small symbols of your faith at work, that you can’t say ‘God bless you’, you can’t offer to pray for somebody,” said Ms Widdecombe.
“If it’s an even bigger stance on conscience that you’re taking, some of the equality laws can actually bring you to the attention of the police themselves.
“So I think it is a very difficult country now, unlike when I was growing up, in which to be a Christian, an active Christian at any rate.”
Ms Widdecombe said that a concern about “political correctness” meant that people were reluctant to express their faith to others because “they think strong belief offends them”.
Christians also faced a “sort of atheism” that “wouldn’t once have been said”, she told an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live with Stephen Nolan.
There used to be a view that “we’ve all got freedom of conscience, we’ve all got freedom of expression”, she said.
“In the 1950s, when plenty of people had lost lives and limbs and loved ones to the Nazis, it was still possible to be a Nazi in this country.”
Similarly, she invoked the right of people to identify openly as a Communist – and to stand for Parliament on that ticket – during the height of the Cold War.
“No matter how strongly we felt as a nation at the time, we’ve always respected the right of people to their own views and I do feel nowadays as a combination of political correctness and equality law and all the rest of it, we’ve started suppressing the expression of conscience.”
Ms Widdecombe’s comments are likely to re-ignite controversy over the role of faith in Britain.
David Cameron provoked hot debate when he said that the UK should be “more confident about our status as a Christian country” in an article shortly before Easter.
A group of 50 public figures said in a letter to The Telegraph that they rejected that description and its “negative consequences for politics and society”.
The prime minister found support however from Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that criticism of the remarks was baffling and criticised “atheist protesters”.
Dominic Grieve, the attorney-general, also stepped into the row to say that atheists who denied that Britain was a Christian country were “deluding themselves”.