February 9, 2009

Blears: No proselytising with public money

by David Masters

Community Secretary Hazel Blears believes churches and other faith groups are ideally placed to help those struggling in the current economic crisis.

However, she warned that faith groups using public money should not use their outreach work as a chance to ‘proselytise’.

Faith groups given public money must offer their services to all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, Blears said.

Speaking at the Evangelical Alliance’s Life Beyond Debt conference, Blears said the government is working towards a charter of excellence for faith groups.

She said: “This charter would mean faith groups, who are paid public money to provide services, promising to provide those services to everyone, regardless of their background.

“And promising not to use public money to proselytise.”

Faith groups are concerned that the government wants to take advantage of the services they provide whilst asking them to shelve their beliefs.

Evangelical Alliance director of Public Policy David Muir said: “The government wants the social action and welfare that faith groups provide, but there is a danger that they also want faith groups to leave their beliefs at the door.”

However, despite Blears’ apparent hard line, she said that it is important to strike a balance between ignoring faith as a motivating force, and proselytising.

Blears said: “It’s not about trying to stop the people manning the soup kitchens, or making home visits, talking about their faith if people ask, or being open about what motivates them.

“I don’t want to get to the place where the very thing that motivates you is stripped away. That’s self defeating.”

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