British National Party candidates should not be invited to election hustings in church halls, the Church of England has told clergy.
Vicars have also been warned to avoid talking to members of the far-right party or being caught photographed with them, in case the images are used in their campaign leaflets. The Church fears the BNP, which won two seats in the European Parliament last year, is trying to shrug off its extremist image by portraying itself as a “guardian of British Christian heritage”.
In response, the Archbishops’ Council has issued detailed guidance on how clergy should deal with “far right political parties, extremist groups and racist politics”. It comes after the Church’s governing body, the General Synod, voted a year ago to ban clergy and lay workers from joining organisations that “contradict the duty to promote race equality”.
The Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs, said: “The note is advisory and seeks to enable church leaders to discern an appropriate course of action within areas where community relations are often fragile or fragmented. Our faith calls us to develop and sustain the hope and vision that things can be different.”
The guidance, first published in 2007 but now expanded ahead of the general election and council polls in May, tells clergy that they do not have to invite BNP candidates for election hustings held in church halls as long as the other parties’ representatives declare the fact.
It states: “Churches are under no legal obligation to include the BNP in election hustings meetings, or give space to such parties for public meetings, if they consider this ‘association’ could have detrimental affect on their reputation and activities (as charities).
“If candidates participate in an event that does not include all candidates in a constituency they need to declare this on their election returns."
The document says that if BNP candidates are elected to a local authority, priests in the area should not contact them personally and refuse any requests to hire church halls.
It says: “Church leaders need to take care when attending functions at which councillors from far-right parties may be present (not least such events as Remembrance Day services). For example: photographs of conversations can be used to imply church support for such councillors and their policies.
“It is not advisable to meet groups promoting racist policies as this gives them credibility and publicity. It is advisable not to give them a platform in churches or church buildings, as this can be used to suggest support for their policies (even by implication).”
However it adds that public sector staff have no choice who they work with and “need your prayers”.
The guidance advises clergy on how to deal with a new wave of protests by the English Defence League, which organises marches against radical Islam but which is accused of hostility to all Muslims. Its events, often attended by football hooligans, have descended into race riots.
It says: “Direct confrontation is inadvisable. Church leaders need to coordinate with police and other community leaders (particularly those being targeted) when a local demonstration is advertised. A prayer vigil followed by the advice to avoid the location of the demonstration has enabled the damage of potentially incendiary situations to be limited.”