BNP vicars banned: Church says far-right party and Christianity 'are not compatible'

London, UK - The Church of England's leaders yesterday voted to ban vicars from joining the BNP.

Despite fears that such a decision could infringe the clergy's rights to free speech and thought, members of the Synod, the Church's parliament, voted overwhelmingly to outlaw membership of the British National Party.

It was argued that support for far-right political parties is incompatible with Christianity.

The ban was proposed by Vasantha Gnanadoss, a Synod member and a civilian official in the Metropolitan Police strategy unit.

She said: 'If supporting organisations like the BNP is inconsistent with Christian discipleship, it seems obvious that clergy and others who speak for the Church should not be members.'

Her call was backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York.

Dr Williams said: 'We have to name names, we have to talk about particular political organisations not just racism generally.'

Dr Sentamu said he was born a member of the Baganda tribe, but added: 'As a Christian, I joined another tribe, it is the tribe of Jesus Christ, and in that tribe all are welcome.'

Meanwhile, the Right Reverend Nicholas Reade, the Bishop of Blackburn, told the Synod: 'In these difficult economic times there are those who could be tempted to look for solutions among extreme political parties and we need to underline that the politics of hatred can never come up with a solution to our problems.

'The religion of the incarnation cannot support in any shape or form racist policies and those who exercise the representative ministry cannot be members of racist parties or organisations for it is just not possible to be racist and speak in the name of Jesus Christ.'

Supporters were urged on by forhavemer Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.

He said a ban would make it 'much more difficult' for the BNP or similar organisations to claim they have support from within the CofE.

However, the Synod was also warned that membership of the BNP is not illegal - and that clergy the same rights to express their views and join political groups as anyone else.

Synod Secretary General William Fittall, the Church's senior lay official, told members: 'Since the BNP is not a proscribed political party, it is lawful to be a member.

'Merely being a member of it could not, therefore, provide a basis for disciplinary proceedings against a member of the clergy.

'Cases outside the Church concerning the BNP have seen employees bringing claims against their employers arguing that their less favourable treatment is an interference with their human rights.'

Canon Alma Servant from Manchester warned that groups could change their 'guise' to conceal their real aims.

She said: 'There is indeed racism in the Church of England. It is in the clergy and it is in the laity. But I am not sure whether this policy is the way to tackle it.'

And surgeon Jonathan Redden, who is a lay member of the Synod, warned that the Church could face the same problems that Labour had in the Eighties when it tried to purge Liverpool of the Trotskyite Militant Tendency.

He said of the city's Labour leader at the time, Derek Hatton: 'He was charged with being a member of Militant.

He said, "No, no, no, I am not a member of Militant, I am a Militant supporter".'

Only one Church of England cleric is thought to be a member of the BNP. The priest, one of five names marked with a 'Reverend' when a list of 12,000 party members was posted on the internet in November, is a retired cleric no longer licensed to conduct services.

The motion for a ban was passed by the General Synod with 322 votes in favour, 13 against and 20 abstentions.

The Church will develop a policy similar to that operated by the Association of Chief Police Officers and recommended by Sir Ian.

It says no police officer may be a member of an organisation whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the ' general duty' to promote race equality. This specifically includes the BNP.