Byline: THE Melanie Phillips COLUMN
THE CHURCH and the judiciary are two of the most venerable pillars of the establishment.
But in an explosive development, war has been declared between them over one of the most fundamental aspects of our society -- freedom of religious conscience.
In an unprecedented move, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and other church leaders are calling upon the Master of the Rolls and other senior judges to stand down from future Court of Appeal hearings involving cases of religious discrimination because of the judges' perceived bias against Christianity.
The churchmen believe that because of these judges' past rulings, there is no chance of a 'fair' judgment if they hear the latest such case, which has been scheduled for Thursday.
This involves Gary McFarlane, formerly a Christian relationship counsellor for Relate. He is appealing against an employment tribunal ruling that upheld his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.
According to newspaper reports, Lord Carey has prepared a witness statement in support of Mr McFarlane in which he will apparently accuse the Court of Appeal of making a series of 'disturbing' judgments and being responsible for some 'dangerous' reasoning which could lead to Christians being banned from the workplace.
In the light of recent events, such fears are scarcely exaggerated. For Christianity is under relentless attack from secular British institutions, as a result of which the freedom of Christians to practise their religion is being lost.
A steady stream of Christians have found themselves out of a job on account of their religious beliefs. When nurse Shirley Chaplin refused to remove her cross, for example, she was prevented by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust from working with patients.
And when Duke Amachree, a Christian homelessness officer with Wandsworth council, advised a client to put her faith in God, he was promptly suspended, marched off the premises and then sacked.
In a string of other cases, Christians have been prevented from serving on adoption panels or as marriage registrars because their religious beliefs mean they cannot sanction civil partnerships or gay adoption.
Such employment difficulties reflect a wider institutional animus against Christianity. Teachers bend over backwards to promote other religions at its expense. The BBC and the artistic world miss no opportunity to trash it or hold it up to ridicule, while the political class and intelligentsia take an axe to its moral precepts on issues such as euthanasia, sex outside marriage and abortion.
Among some churchmen, there has been rumbling alarm about this for some time. Only last month, Lord Carey and a group of bishops wrote to the Press to denounce such 'discrimination' against churchgoers as 'unacceptable in a civilised society'.
But this new initiative elevates such protest to a very different level.
To prevent discrimination against Christians being set in stone, Lord Carey wants religious discrimination cases to be heard by a special panel of judges with some knowledge of religious matters.
As an insult to some of the biggest wigs in the land, this could hardly be exaggerated.
By throwing down the gauntlet to the judiciary in this way, Lord Carey is mounting a full-frontal challenge to some of those who most influence our society.
The last of several final straws for these clerics was the case of Lilian Ladele, a registrar who was sacked by Islington council after she refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies because they were against her Christian beliefs.
Led by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger -- the second most important judge in England -- the Appeal Court ruled that it was unlawful for her to refuse to do so. …