Britain bars US clergy under 'anti-terror' law

London, England - A GROUP of trainee Methodist ministers has been barred from Britain by the Home Office under laws passed 12 years ago to prevent unqualified religious leaders entering the country.

Every year, the Methodist Church in the US sends 14 probationer ministers to this country for a year, and they have never been turned away before. But for the first time this year, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has ruled that the 14 trainees fall foul of legislation passed in 1994 under which ministers who are not ordained cannot get a work visa.

Church leaders accused the Home Office of an attack on religious freedom. Although probationer ministers in the Methodist Church are fully trained, they cannot be ordained until they have served a set of churches, known as a circuit, for two years.

An estimated 100 such probationer Methodist ministers have been admitted to work in Britain since 1994, according to this week’s Methodist Recorder.

Dr Paul Glass, Superintendent Methodist Minister for Wakefield, said: “This rule is meant to be for unqualified Islamic students. You could not imagine somebody less like a terrorist than a young American Methodist minister.

“It seems to be ludicrous and a direct attack on religious freedom. The Government is in danger of looking ridiculous.

“Faced with a Government that is acting in increasingly authoritarian ways, I would hope that we could bring as much pressure to bear as possible to change this restrictive action.”

Lord Griffiths, Minister of Wesley’s Chapel, Central London, described the ban as a “denial of natural justice”.

He said: “Decades of good practice have now been lost and the opportunity to develop and enhance international relations thrown in the water. If ever there was a law with unintended consequences, this surely has to be it.”

The Methodist Church has said it is hoping that a new pre-entry qualification and post-entry civic knowledge test for ministers of religion will help them to gain visas in the future.

The Rev David Deeks, general-secretary of the Methodist Church, said: “This decision had nothing to do with political correctness or imams from Pakistan. Rather it is a difference of opinion — the Methodist Church regards all those who serve under the discipline of the Church to be ministers, even before they are ordained.

“The Home Office does not agree. We continue to work closely with the Home and Foreign Offices to resolve this.”

A Home Office official said: “We have received correspondence highlighting immigration provisions as regards trainee Methodist ministers. We are currently looking into this issue.”