In a written submission to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has said that Christians are being “vilified” by British courts and “driven underground.”

Lamenting what he sees as believers being sacked for expressing their faith, he also blames judges for labelling some worshippers as “bigots.” The submission is aimed at judges in Strasbourg, where a landmark case is to be contested on the boundaries of religious freedom.

The hearing will also include the case of a relationship counsellor in Bristol who lost his job on refusing to give what the BBC has described as “sex therapy” to a gay couple, and that of a government registrar in north London who refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies on account of her Christian faith.

In his submission, Lord Carey argues that “the State and Courts… not parliament” are destroying the legal right to freedom of religion of “any substantive effect” by insisting on stringent readings of equality law. He also says that if rulings against wearing crosses and expressing Christian faith are not reversed, then believers could face a “religious bar” to employment.

The hearing at Strasbourg on September 4 will also hear the case of a British Airways employee who, a Pentecostal Christian, was sacked on account of her refusal to remove or hide a visible crucifix.

In admonishing British judges for applying “equality laws to discriminate against Christians,” Lord Carey adds: ”In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by state bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong… It affects the moral and ethical compass of the United Kingdom.”

Such statements are not new from the former archbishop, who served from 1991 to 2002, who has recently said that Christianity was effectively being “banned” from the public sphere. He has also called the current proposals for equal marriage “one of the greatest political power grabs in history.”

The National Secular Society (NSS)was quick to respond that the justice system ought not be “weighted in favour of the religious, violating the principle of one law for all”. The freedom of Christians must be necessarily limited, it said, “when they seek to discriminate against and therefore impinge adversely on others as part of employment or providing services to the public”.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of NSS said: “Being required to respect others equally does not compromise the ability to worship or manifest religion… Lord Carey is not just wrong, but the truth is the opposite of what he asserts. Far from the UK being less intolerant than the rest of the world on religion, it is perhaps the most religiously tolerant country in the world.”