A row has broken out after the British National Party tried to use Lichfield Cathedral as the backdrop for an advertising campaign.
The Archdeacon of Lichfield, the Ven Chris Liley, has hit out at the BNP after an activist turned up in Cathedral Close on Tuesday with a large advertising van displaying a pro-BNP poster.
The move comes as the debate over plans by the Muslim community to build a mosque in the city rages on with more than 5,000 people voicing objections to the plan on a Facebook site.
The BNP activist was challenged by the Archdeacon who “required him” to stop taking photographs and to remove the van from the cathedral’s precincts.
The cathedral authorities said it will now be writing to the BNP to “demand” it does not publish any promotional or marketing material which uses the cathedral as a backdrop or implies any endorsement of the BNP’s views or policies by the cathedral.
Mr Liley said: “Lichfield Cathedral is a place of Christian worship and the centre of mission for the Diocese of Lichfield. We are open to all and want everybody to feel welcome here – but people visiting the Cathedral must act in a way which does not damage the cathedral nor the welcome that we are able to offer other visitors.”
Diocesan spokesman Gavin Drake said: “I didn’t think it would take long for the BNP to latch on to the Mosque issue.”
The BNP defended its actions claiming it is “voicing the opinion of the people of Lichfield”. BNP spokesman Simon Darby said: “We sent our truth truck along because a lot of people in Lichfield are very upset by the planned mosque.
"If this was a Labour or Islamic poster would the cathedral have taken the same action? The Archdeacon should spend more time defending the Christian faith because it needs it.”
He claimed: “I lived nearby for a long time and would often visit the city and go shopping so I know that Lichfield is a beautiful place to visit - we want it to stay that way. This isn’t about immigration - it’s about colonisation.”
In recent weeks the BNP have been targeting Christian voters and last month unveiled an advertising poster headed: What would Jesus Do - Vote BNP.
Chris Liley added: “The BNP are wrong to suggest Jesus would vote for the BNP. I don’t know who he would vote for, but his parable of the Good Samaritan was a clear example about the value we should place on people from other communities.
“Lichfield Cathedral encourages people to vote in elections and we seek to engage with all legitimate politicians. But we will not endorse any candidate or party and it is wrong for any party to seek to use the cathedral in a way which might imply endorsement.”