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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 October 2006, 18:32 GMT 19:32 UK
Bishop defends multi-faith fears
Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme - copyright Manchester Diocese
Rt Rev Stephen Lowe said the paper did not reflect the views of bishops
A Church of England briefing which says the government's attempts to integrate minority faiths have "backfired" has been defended by a leading bishop.

The paper for the Church's House of Bishops said society had been left "more separated than ever before".

The Church's Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, said it did not reflect the bishops' view.

But he told BBC Radio 4's Sunday show that Christians had been "sidelined" by a bid to deal with political extremism.

'Skewing of process'

Bishop Lowe said: "This was a six or seven-page document which the Church of England House of Bishops used as a briefing document for their own debate about cohesion and integration, and that briefing paper led to a good debate which reflected the experience of the Church across the land.

"It's not the view of the bishops. The bishops did not actually agree the document, vote on it or adopt it as policy of the Church of England.

"But what I think actually they are saying is that we are worried that the government's agenda around political extremism has led to a skewing of the whole process around community cohesion and integration to a point where maybe the other faiths including the Christian faiths has actually to some extent been sidelined in this process."

Written by the interfaith adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, it says Muslims have been given "preferential" treatment since the 7 July bombings.

The Church said the note, leaked to the Sunday Telegraph, was not an attack but a contribution to debate.

'Frightening and intimidating'

The government's Commission on Integration and Cohesion is looking at how communities in England can tackle challenges like segregation and social or economic divisions between ethnic groups.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has held talks with Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly to see how the church could become involved.

The Church's document is said to challenge the view that the UK is a "multi-faith society".

"The contribution of the Church of England in particular and of Christianity in general to the underlying culture remains very substantial," it said.

The note, called Cohesion and Integration - A Briefing Note for the House (of Bishops), goes on to describe the government's approach to integration as "schizophrenic".

"One might argue that disaffection and separation is now greater than ever, with Muslim communities withdrawing further into a sense of victimhood, and other faith communities seriously concerned that the government has given signals that appear to encourage the notion of a privileged relationship with sections of the Muslim community," it says.

On Sunday, Communities and Local Government Minister Phil Woolas backed Commons leader Jack Straw's criticism of Muslim women for wearing veils.

Mr Woolas, writing in the Sunday Mirror, said Muslims should show understanding of people of other faiths who might find veils "frightening and intimidating."

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