By Vexen Crabtree 2013
Andrea Minichiello Williams is a prominent and infamous UK fundamentalist Christian, and represents "the public face of Britain's loonier religious elements and their quixotic attempts to use the legal system to provide religious exemptions to laws on equality"1. She is a founder and member of various Christian institutions in the UK. She is CEO of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre2, currently sits in the Church of England General Synod, and formed the Wilberforce Academy (UK) alongside the Alliance Defence Fund (USA). She has waged long-standing and immoral campaigns against every aspect of tolerance and equality for the LGBT community both in the UK and abroad. Her style mirrors that of USA fundamentalists who continually press for Christian theocratic power and dominionism, with no acceptance of the diversity or equality that have defined the democratic era.
Andrea Minichiello Williams sits in the General Synod of the Church of England (i.e., its parliament). She was elected to that position in 2010 for a 5-year stint.
Andrea Minichiello Williams is the lawyer behind the UK's outlandish Christian Legal Centre, which has supported a number of failed cases against UK equality and human rights law. See Legislation and Faith: Religious Rights and Religious Wrongs.
Christian Concern (UK) was founded by Andrea Minichiello Williams3. It is a political lobbying organisation for Christian power, concentrating on promoting anti-homosexuality and stopping equality legislation. Before 2010, it was known more fully as Christian Concern For Our Nation (CCFON)4.
Before 2008, Andrea Minichiello Williams' anti-homosexuality lobby was ran from within The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship. Because that body is a charity and she is involved in political lobbying, she set up the Christian Concern banner as UK charities cannot engage in politics.4
The evangelical and well-resourced Alliance Defence Fund combined forces with Williams' Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern, to create the "Wilberforce Academy ... which aims to train delegates "for servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in public life" [...]. Several of its delegates have already gone on to work for the legal centre and Christian Concern"5. The Wilberforce Academy "has courted controversy as it has used the premises of Oxford University to preach against the 'militant homosexual lobby'"1.
The Christian Legal Centre's frequent standing counsel, who delivers arguments in court, is the maligned Paul Diamond6, who "became Barrister to the Keep Sunday Special Campaign in 1988"7. On his practice timeline the first association with the organisations on this page is in 2007 (at the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship). In 2012 he spoke to students and graduates at the Wilberforce Academy.
Andrea Minichiello Williams has been involved in the following arguments and campaigns:
In 2013 Dec she was found at the Jamaican conference of evangelical Christians, pressuring their government to retain its infamous laws that criminalize homosexuality and punishes people with up to 10 years hard labour for being gay. She extorts the Jamaican government not to go the way of Europe (which is strongly LGBT tolerant, as any democratic and morally developed country should be).8,9
It is a "big lie" that homosexuality is innate (despite the evidence)8. Instead, she believes that events such as the death of a father cause homosexuality, even though many that scientific studies into twins separated at birth have found strong biological and pre-developmental causes of homosexuality, ,9. She thinks that Tom Daley, the UK Olympic athlete, is gay because his father died a few years ago9.
Decriminalizing homosexuality somehow equates to the loss of the concept of age of consent8.
In Jamaica she said that tolerance of homosexuality leads to paedophilia. She is also angry that when organisations like her's assert that paedophilia and homosexuality are related, they often fall foul of hate-speech laws and the media turns against them8. She must feel so hard-done by, and I'm sure that Jamaica's LGBT community, which is one of the most oppressed in the world and suffers frequent brutal murders9, empathize with her.
"She is firmly in the young earth creationist camp [and believes that] the world is just 4,000 years old [...], even though she's clever enough to know that admitting as much on camera makes you sound like a complete loon"1.
Abortion should be illegal1.
Homosexuality is sinful1. She doesn't just preach this as a matter of belief, but actively applies legal and campaign pressure to prevent LGBT equality.
Fundamentalism: If there was any doubt that Andrea M. Williams represents extremist Christianity, she dismisses it by admitting that she is a fundamentalist:
“Williams says that the Human Fertilisation bill is the work of the devil, because it rejects basic biblical principles. She believes that abortion should be illegal, homosexuality is sinful and the world is just 4,000 years old. Her views on other religions, particularly Islam, are so offensive they're barely printable. When I ask if it's fair to describe her views as fundamentalist she agrees unselfconsciously.”
Christian Concern have lobbied on these things, amongst others:
Against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 2007 and 20084. Despite warning the nation that this Bill was sponsored by the devil himself, no-one listened and the bill was passed through the House of Commons with no amendments.
"In 2007, they supported Lydia Playfoot, a schoolgirl who had been instructed to remove a sexual abstinence ring in school because it contravened her school's uniform policy. Miss Playfoot took her case to the High Court of Justice alleging her human rights had been violated under the European Convention on Human Rights, but the High Court found against her, awarding her school £12,000 costs"4.
Lobbied against the Sexual Orientation Regulations bill in 2006 and 2007, rallying outside Parliament and collecting over 10,000 signatures on the basis that it prevented conservative Christians from discriminating against homosexuals - although they ironically phrased it as being "discriminatory" against Christians, even though the law applies equally to all and is itself against discrimination. Their lobbying completely failed and the bill was passed without any amendments.4
Against the Religious Hatred Bill in 2005. The bill was passed, but was amended (which Christian Concern claimed as a victory) even though they admitted they were against the bill in total.4
Thankfully, many voices in the UK have spoken out repeatedly against Andrea Minichiello Williams, Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre. Human rights groups and LGBT equality lobbyists are more than familiar voices of reason. Christian leaders in the UK are also sounding warnings about this British fundamentalist. The evangelical wing, themselves quite divorced from ordinary British Christianity, have disclaimed against her. It was Andrea Minichiello Williams and Stephen Green (a similar figure) that "prompted Joel Edwards of the Evangelical Alliance to criticise the "eccentric fringe" of British evangelical Christianity when he left the organisation in 2008"1.
“The Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, sought to distance himself from her remarks: "The comments by Andrea Minichiello Williams about the decriminalisation of same sex intercourse in Jamaica have no sanction in the Church of England or the diocese of Chichester. Insofar as such comments incite homophobia, they should be rejected as offensive and unacceptable.
"The Christian Church is widely perceived as homophobic and intolerant of those for whom same sex attraction is the foundation of their emotional lives. It is urgent, therefore, that Christians find legitimate ways to affirm and demonstrate the conviction that the glory of God is innate in every human being, and the mercy of God embraces each of us indiscriminately."
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "It is surprising that Andrea Minichiello Williams is a member of the Church of England's parliament. On the basis of this hatemongering she risks bringing the whole body into disrepute. I'm not sure what the procedure is for getting rid of representatives, but I would suggest to the Diocese of Chichester that they take urgent steps to make her step down. That would be a clear indication that they mean what they say about opposing homophobia".”
National Secular Society (2013)8
In "Legislation and Faith: Religious Rights and Religious Wrongs" by Vexen Crabtree (2013) I look at CLC's cases alongside other cases of the Christian Institute, which runs along similar lines to the CLC.
The Christian Legal Centre "says it now has more than 50 similar cases on its books [and] it is receiving up to five calls a day from Christians seeking to take action against their employers whom they feel are failing to respect their faith [however] critics of the Christian Legal Centre suggest it rarely wins any of the legal battles it fights"5 and it has been widely ridiculed in the press, excepting some trashy tabloids such as the Daily Mail, who find CLC's cases ripe ground for a bit of sensationalism and hate-mongering. Some cases I've listed here because they're exactly the same in style and tone as other more infamous cases that the CLC has supported.
Gary McFarlane was employed by Relate to give counselling in sex and relationship issues. His strict Bible-based Christian beliefs were widely known especially that he sternly believed that he could never engage in any action that appeared to support homosexuality. However in 2007 he assured his employer that he would be able to, as Relate's charter states, treat people equally and fairly. He saw two lesbian couples with no problem, but in 2008 it became apparent he had serious issues with male homosexuals, and he was suspended. He stated his views had never changed, and that he still held he could never support homosexuals. He appealed, and then, supported by the Christian Legal Centre11, lodged a complaint with the Employment Tribunal, ironically, claiming that he suffered from direct discrimination because he wasn't allowed to discriminate. He lost the case, and the panel noted in particular how it is not practical to filter away homosexual clients from seeing him in confidence. It is quite easy to imagine that patients may have homosexual concerns that are not raised until they are already sat with Gary McFarlane, and that therefore he cannot be relied upon for counselling.
Electrician Colin Atkinson was displaying a crucifix, advertised for all to see, in a company van belonging to Wakefield District Housing. Not wanting their property to be used for proselytisation, and, being an outfit that must be seen as treating all people fairly and equally, Wakefield District Housing introduced a rule banning all employees from having personal items on display in company vehicles. The case went to court, and was represented and funded by The Christian Legal Centre (CLC). The case was on very shaky ground, with the main argument seemingly being that because he was a Christian, Colin did not have to comply with the rules which fairly applied to everyone. The Christian Legal Centre's CEO, Andrea Minichiello Williams, said:
“Christians across the centuries have been prepared to lose their lives for their faith by standing up for what they believe in because they love Jesus Christ," she said. "The Christian Legal Centre will not allow Christianity to be eliminated from the public sphere or to be silenced or sidelined.”
The CLC have excelled in stiring up fake-scandal style outrage over issues, by wording all their clients' attempts at evading the law in terms of anti-Christian persecution.
“The dispute ... was transformed into a front-page row and hijacked by the far right. Wakefield and District Housing found itself vilified, with death threats made to staff and more than 1,000 abusive emails sent to them. The British National party picketed its offices.
The matter was finally settled last week when it was agreed that Atkinson could keep a cross in the van, but out of the public eye. ... "This is a quintessentially modern story of a voluntary sector organisation trying to do the right thing by its staff and tenants only to be misrepresented by the tabloid press and attacked by shadowy groups and rabble rousers from the BNP," said David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation.
But Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said that her organisation would continue to contest policies it viewed as anti-Christian.”
The Guardian (2011)5
“Nadia Eweida, the woman who sued BA because she claimed they had discriminated against her after she wore a cross over her uniform, also lost her case. Far from being a victim, Ms Eweida was described by the Employment Tribunal as a nightmare employee who made unreasonable demands, unfounded accusations and was insulting to her colleagues when they didn't share her religious beliefs.”
Nadia Eweida is a dedicated Coptic Christian from Egypt who worked for British Airways (BA), where a strict uniform allows no jewellery or accessories to be visible. Religious symbols have to be beneath the uniform if possible - if not possible, then, they can make exceptions (Sikhs for example may wear a BA-coloured turban). This rule and method of exception of course applies to all people, of all religions. However, in 2006 Nadia Eweida decided she wanted to wear a Christian cross that was visible, despite it being perfectly possible to wear a discrete one. She fought a series of battles with her line managers and a series of sensationalist news paper articles appeared about it, all of them from Eweida's point of view, claiming that BA was persecuting Christians. In early 2007, BA backed down and decided to allow Christians and Jews to wear visible symbols. However, Eweida fought to reclaim lost pay on occasions when she had been sent home for not following the dress code, a punishment which was standard practise. It went to the Employment Tribunal and then Employment Appeal Tribunal, which rejected the case as the cross was not a mandatory part of her religion, and, Christians were not being put at a disadvantage by being made to follow the same rules as all other employees. In 2010 she was still fighting, and the Court of Appeal also rejected her case. In addition, it brought out the fact that "British Airways had offered to move the applicant without loss of pay to work involving no public contact, but the applicant had chosen to reject this offer and instead to stay away from work and claim her pay as compensation". In other words she refused to wear the cross discretely and refused to accept a non-uniformed position. The problem was with Eweida herself, not with the clothing rules, and not with BA which tried to accommodate her. She took the fight to the Supreme Court, which refused the case. However, she got lucky with the European Court of Human Rights, where, on the 15th of Jan 2013, they found that as BA had since changed its clothing regulations to allow crosses, it clearly wasn't important enough to have warranted those codes in the first place. Unfortunately, the ECHR ruled in her favour by 5 votes to 2, and have awarded her €32,000 plus interest. Despite the facts, sensationalist and ill-informed coverage in the press has reported it simply as a case of an innocent Christian who just wanted to wear a cross.13.
All medical staff know that loose jewellery cannot be worn in clinical situations. Christian Chaplin had worn her cross on a necklace continually since 1971, she says, but a new nurse's uniform at Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, a State hospital, meant it was visible and loose. She was requested to take off her necklace, but she refused. Later the Employment Tribunal would see the health and safety documentation and evidence that it is a hygiene and safety risk - hence why no one else is allowed to wear them either. Other Christian nurses had complied when asked to remove jewellery and Sikhs and Muslim nurses and doctors have also been asked to remove religious paraphernalia from their clothes, which they had all done. Chaplin, however, refused, even though there is no religious requirement for her to wear necklaces, crosses or jewellery, as a Christian.
She was moved to a non-nursing position because her attitude meant she could not safely see patients, and she complained to the Employment Tribunal in 2009 complaining of discrimination (apparently unaware that other people had also had to comply with the universal clothing regulations). The case was rejected as patient's health and safety were more important than jewellery, no matter the reason for wanting to wear it. She took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, where, on the 15th of Jan 2013, they unanimously rejected her claims of discrimination, especially given the steps the hospital had taken to try to accommodate her irrationality. Not only did they move her to a position where the necklace was not a problem, but they "suggested that she could secure her cross and chain to the lanyard which held her identity badge. All staff were required to wear an identity badge clipped to a pocket or on a lanyard. However, they were also required to remove the badge and lanyard when performing close clinical duties", however, Chaplin rejected this solution because she would have to sometimes remove it.13
If a person has aspects of their behaviour (including choice of attire and accessories) that contradict the safety of others, it is of course correct that their employer can move them away from patients (or customers) or fire them. A nurse should have known better as the risks of jewellery are widely known, and, the evidence behind the dress codes were brought out very early in the 4-year debate. Is showing off your religion really more important than doing the right thing?
“Questions have been asked about from where the centre - and its sister organisation, Christian Concern For Our Nation - obtain funding. Accounts show both organisations have little in the way of income.
Williams said all of the centre's work was done on a pro bono basis by committed Christian lawyers and that what money it had came in small donations from more than 30,000 people who received its regular email updates. "We never ask clients for money," she said. "Very often they fear losing their case and having to pay the costs of the other side. Part of our ministry is to ensure they are not burdened with that."”
The Guardian (2011)5
Andrea Minichiello Williams joined forces with the rich American evangelical outfit, the Alliance Defence Fund, to form the Wilberforce Academy, which controversially uses premises at Oxford University. Although People trained there have gone on to work for the Christian Legal Centre, and Williams describes the ADF as "a fantastic organisation", she also says "they don't pay anything towards the academy"5.
Current edition: 2013 Dec 24
Parent page: Christianity
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The Independent. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.