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Christians facing ‘unprecedented’ persecution, Catholic and Anglican prelates warn

Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby pray during a vigil outside Westminster Abbey (Getty)

Cardinal Nichols and Justin Welby called on the government to do more to help persecuted Christians

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby have called for the British government to do more to protect Christians facing persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.

In a joint statement from the Catholic Church and the Church of England, the two prelates said the government should promote freedom of religion and belief as a fundamental human right. They also called on Government to promote freedom of religion through foreign, aid, security, trade, resettlement and asylum policy, rather than treating it as an isolated diplomatic activity.

Their call comes in response to a government review into religious freedom, launched by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this year. The review is being led by Philip Mountstephen, Anglican Bishop of Truro.

Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Welby said in a joint letter:

“Christians form an important part of the social fabric in almost every country of the world. Yet in many places, our Christian sisters and brothers face persecution of an intensity and extent unprecedented in many centuries.

“This Submission is shaped by their voices and by our commitment to make them heard.

“We must remember, too, that these threats to freedom of religion or belief are not restricted to Christians alone. Rather, it is a widespread experience of the followers of other faiths. Many are deprived of this basic expression of their human dignity. Similar threats are also faced by atheists and agnostics who seek to uphold crucial decisions of conscience.

“We ask Her Majesty’s Government to take note of the practical recommendations offered by our Churches in this Submission and to take meaningful action not only in protecting Christians facing persecution but also in promoting freedom of religion and belief more widely.”

Their call comes a month after the Home Office was criticised for “shocking illiteracy” of religion after rejecting a Christian asylum seeker’s application on the grounds that Christianity is “not a peaceful religion”.

The Iranian asylum seeker said she converted because “In Christianity there is peace, forgiveness and kindness,” however a Home Office official rejected this, writing in the reply letter that the Bible contains many violent passages.

“These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge’,” the official wrote.

The Home Office said in a statement that the letter was “not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith”.