Ministers are being accused of anti-Christian bias after spending more to mark Ramadan, Eid ul-Fitr, Diwali and Chinese new year than they do on Easter and Christmas.
The Home Office spent more than £15,000 in a week on events celebrating Muslim and Hindu religious feasts, according to figures released to Parliament. The Department for Transport (DfT) sent staff to minority events in Birmingham and Swansea but did nothing for Christmas except tell workers about carol concerts. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted VIP receptions to mark dates on the Muslim and Chinese calendars but has no plans to observe the main Christian festival of Easter.
Whitehall’s response to important cultural dates was uncovered in a number of Commons questions by David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth, who complained of “anti-Christian prejudice”.
One government department spokeswoman said that it used religious events to fulfil its legal obligations to reach minority communities. Critics say that such strategies risk promoting sectarianism as they define people by their religion.
Claire Rayner, the broadcaster and honorary associate of the National Secular Society, said: “It’s wrong. It makes separateness more important. Really, the Government should stand aside from religion. The Government is in a sense proselytising, which is not what our taxes were designed for.”
Ted Cantle, whose inquiry into race riots in northern Britain in 2001 highlighted polarisation, said: “We have often promoted events which feature one community rather than another. We have created a degree of separateness through that.” Census figures show more than 60 per cent of black Britons are Christians, but the Government appears to use secular paths to reach them.
The Home Office disclosed that it had invited 200 guests from the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities to an Eid/ Diwali celebration on November 14, at a cost of £8,933. An internal staff event six days earlier marking the same festivals cost £7,557. The DfT spent £300 on a “celebration of culture” for staff to mark Diwali and Eid. The DVLA’s “diversity team” attended a Chinese new year celebration in Swansea while the Highways Agency sent staff to a Diwali event at the NEC in Birmingham.
Asked about Christmas, the DfT said that it “took a number of steps . . . including publicising the Whitehall carol service”. Mr Davies said: “Instead of building motorways, the Highways Agency is travelling to a Diwali event [and] the DVLA send officials to celebrate Chinese new year. Why are we paying them to do that?” The Home Office said: “The historical and cultural significance of Christianity in our country’s story is indisputable.”
Eid-al-Fitr The end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, is marked by Muslims with a feast. It was first celebrated by the Prophet Muhammad after victory at Battle of Badr
Diwali The Hindu and Sikh festival of lights celebrates the victory of good over evil
Chinese new year The year of the dog, based on the ancient Chinese calendar, began on January 29
Easter The holiest Christian festival recalls the Resurrection of Christ
Christmas Christ’s birth is widely marked by cribs recreating the Nativity scene in the Bethlehem stable. Children are told Santa Claus travels from the North Pole with gifts