Barnabas Fund launches publication to celebrate 300 years since the first abolition of a Test Act which is said to have ushered in an age of religious liberty in the West
The “golden era” of religious liberty may be coming to an end unless people stand up for freedom and resist “Test Acts”, declared a leading British politician, Rt Hon Sir John Hayes MP, at the launch of a Barnabas Fund publication celebrating the 300th anniversary of the first repeal of a Test Act in Britain.
Test Acts were laws that made eligibility for certain jobs, public offices or even studying at university conditional on an individual affirming a particular religion or set of beliefs.
The publication, How Britain led the world in developing freedom of religion, was launched at a meeting chaired by the Conservative MP in the Palace of Westminster on 15 January 2019.
The event, attended by a number of Parliamentarians and their representatives, celebrated the 1719 repeal of the Schism Act, which had excluded non-Anglicans from becoming school teachers. The remaining Test Acts were repealed between 1828 and 1871 and led to religious freedoms developing in the UK and spreading around the world. Both the USA and Australia wrote into their constitutions provisions to prevent any kind of Test Act ever being introduced.
In his foreword to the booklet, Sir John Hayes argues that people are being persecuted for their religious beliefs to this very day. He writes that religious persecution is not the preserve of distant dictatorships and that, “the struggle for religious freedom in our own nation has not been a straightforward one. After centuries of struggle, freedom triumphed.”
But he warned that the period of liberty that the UK, and other nations, have enjoyed for centuries may be ending. “Religious believers are,” he writes, “once again, facing increased pressure to restrict their faith to the ‘private sphere’. We now see regular, and increasingly unapologetic, persecution of Christians who remain committed to Biblical teaching, refusing to bow to liberal, secular orthodoxies.”
Hendrik Storm, Chief Executive of Barnabas Fund a relief agency for the persecuted church, said: “This 300th anniversary of the 1719 Repeal is a reminder that we cannot rest on our laurels in making a case for religious freedom. Barnabas Fund is used to defending religious freedom in many parts of the world but we are now seeing forms of discrimination and marginalisation in Europe we must be alert to. Nor should we risk repeating the mistakes of the past by giving in to pressures to introduce new 'Tests' of secular humanist belief.”
As Sir John Hayes wrote in his foreword, “Although it is now Bible-believing Christians who face increasing discrimination today, radical secularists are every bit as determined to undermine the freedoms of observant Muslims and Orthodox Jews.”
The booklet contends that the tercentenary of the first abolition of a Test Act by the British Parliament was a foundational step towards freedom of religion and belief in the UK and around the world.
The booklet How Britain led the world in developing freedom of religion is available to download here.