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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 December 2007, 11:23 GMT
UK 'must celebrate Christianity'
MPs debated whether there was "Christianophobia" in the UK
The UK should "celebrate" the role of Christianity in the country's heritage and culture, the government has said.

Community cohesion minister Parmjit Dhanda told MPs the religion had had a "significant impact" in securing people's rights and freedoms.

He was speaking in a Westminster debate over whether there was widespread "Christianophobia" in the UK.

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard warned the government not to "surrender" the UK's Christian heritage.

Mr Pritchard called the Westminster Hall debate, claiming that the importance of the faith was being undermined by the "politically correct brigade".

He argued that "parties of hate" could step in to fill the gap left by "mainstream" politicians, and "hijack" Christianity to get their messages across.

'Huge difference'

But Mr Dhanda said the government admired the work of faith-based groups, which had made a "huge difference" to regional regeneration and charity work in the UK and abroad.

He added: "I fully recognise the full historical and cultural significance [of Christianity] in our country.

"We should all be aware of that and celebrate that."

Mark Pritchard
Taking Christ out of Christmas is like serving the Christmas turkey without the stuffing
Mark Pritchard MP

Mr Dhanda, a Sikh, added that Christian campaigners had worked hard in the past to secure freedom of speech and religion.

He added: "The Christian tradition has had a significant impact on the way these freedoms have been shaped."

Speaking earlier in the debate, Mr Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin, in Shropshire, said Christians should get "full minority rights".

Mr Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin, Shropshire, said Christianity in the UK was being undermined "mostly by stealth", even though 3.2 million people attended church every Sunday.

He added: "Most Christians feel they are not getting a fair hearing

"Many shoppers find it increasingly difficult to buy greeting cards with references to Christ... Advent calendars are extremely hard to find."

He added: "Christ always has been and always will be at the very heart of Christmas. Taking Christ out of Christmas is like serving the Christmas turkey without the stuffing."

'Slay the dragon'

Mr Pritchard said the British National Party in Staffordshire was sending out cards showing "the holy family on the front cover", bearing "the words 'heritage, tradition and culture'."

He added: "Is the government prepared to stand by and surrender the nation's Christian traditions to parties of hate?"

Mr Pritchard said it was "time for the dragon of political correctness to be slain".

Ahead of the debate Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, called it "a waste of precious parliamentary time".

He said: "Christians are not being pushed out of public life. If anything they are over-represented."

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