Tuesday, December 28, 2010

British legal system protecting rights of minorities over Christians – bishop

The Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt told the BBC’s World This Weekend there was an “imbalance” in the legal system with regards to the freedom of Christians and people of other faiths pursuing the calling of their faith in public life.

He expressed concerns over rulings being handed down by court judges in cases involving Christians as he warned of “a lack of religious literacy” in Parliament and among those in the judiciary.

It was becoming, he added, increasingly “difficult” for devoted believers to work in the public services and even in Parliament.

“Probably for the first time in our history there is a widespread lack of religious literacy among those who one way and another hold power and influence, whether it’s Parliament or the media or even, dare I say it, in the judiciary,” he said.

“Anybody who is part of the religious community believes that you don’t just hold views, you live them. Manifesting your faith is part of having it and not part of some optional bolt-on.

“Judgement seemed to be following contemporary society, which seems to think that secularist views are statements of the obvious and religious views are notions in the mind. That is the culture in which we are living.

“The judges ought to be religiously literate enough to know that there is an argument behind all this, which can’t simply be settled by the nature of society as it is today.”

The bishop pointed to the case of Gary McFarlane as evidence of a legal bias under the Human Rights Act towards protecting the rights of minorities over those of Christians, particularly in the area of sexuality.

Mr McFarlane was sacked by counselling organisation Relate in 2007 after he told them that it would be against his Christian beliefs to offer sex counselling to same-sex couples. He lost an appeal against his dismissal in April this year.

His was just one of many high profile cases involving Christians and their employers in the last few years.

In March, Christian registrar Lillian Ladele lost her appeal at the Supreme Court against Islington council, which threatened to dismiss her unless she performed same-sex civil partnership registrations. She is appealing the ruling before the European Court of Human Rights.

The last remaining Catholic adoption agency is also in the middle of a court battle to maintain its right to work with a Catholic ethos that refuses to place children in homosexual families. 

All other Catholic adoption agencies have either closed or changed their ethos following the introduction of equality laws.