The Developing Redefinition of Rights and Love

John Deighan FAITH Magazine March-April 2010

John Deighan, the Parliamentary Advisor to the Scottish Bishops, builds upon his previous pieces in this magazine to draw out the anti-Christian contradictions involved in some recent judicial decisions. They would seem to be examples of what Pope Benedict recently called a "forgetfulness' of Europe's founding "anthropological vision", which risks "seeing great and beautiful values compete or come into conflict with each other" (see our Road from Regensburg column).

The view that same-sex relationships are wrong is not one that will be tolerated in public life. My previous contributions to Faith have examined the promotion of the agenda which has now brought us to the situation where opposition is inadmissible in public policy. The recent cases of Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele instruct us that the situation has gone further than silencing dissent, it now demands cooperation. McFarlane worked with the relationship counselling organisation Relate until he was sacked for his unwillingness to counsel same-sex couples. The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld his dismissal. Lillian Ladele suffered a similar fate in her case to save her job as a registrar with Islington council. She was unwilling to perform civil partnership registrations and wasduly sacked. In December the Court of Appeal ruled against her application that she was discriminated against in being compelled to perform civil partnership registrations contrary to her religious beliefs. McFarlane's failure to overturn his dismissal was greeted with typical understanding by one Pink News website contributor, Jane:

"Failed to accommodate his faith"! Here we go again.

No, it's that increasingly society will not accommodate your bigotry, your prejudice, your hate.

Get over it, there's an easy way, go back to your bible and read about how Jesus accepted everyone without reservation and without discrimination. Then you would have the right to call yourself a 'Christian'." [1]

McFarlane clearly doesn't pass muster as a good Christian in Jane's book. Invective is not uncommon in efforts to "persuade" Christians of their error.

Typically, supporters of our equality regime, which gives rise to these scenarios, will argue that employees who refused to conduct services for those of a particular race would be similarly disciplined for their racism. For example, another contributor to the Pink News Website, Luke, argues:

"Just imagine that someone used their religious beliefs to argue they couldn't officiate ceremonies between non-white people, or non-religious people, or Muslims. Quite rightly, there would be outrage. But somehow, not officiating ceremonies between same-sex couples is deemed different, by a fair number of people."[2]

It is an attractive argument and most definitely one that convinces the equality campaigners who would have Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele suffer the loss of their livelihood for adhering to their beliefs. It is tempting simply to show where Luke has got it wrong, but there is more than reason at work and simply winning a rational argument is not enough. If we are seeking a system of true fairness then situations such as those described above need to be resolved to ensure that people can live as harmoniously as possible in our society even when we disagree, as Luke and I do. We know that the equality movement has been driven by concern for minority groups. This has typically meant that we have ensured through legislation that minorities are not unduly disadvantaged in society becauseof their status or circumstances. Tolerance has been a by-word of the enlightened approach to ensuring that women, disabled, racial groups etc have been able to participate fully in society and been suitably accommodated. Sexual orientation has been the focal point for quite some time for special attention in law to overcome disadvantage (real or alleged) for those with attraction to persons of the same sex; and now, increasingly those who wish to change sex or dress as a person of the opposite sex.

Dealing with Dissent

The solutions currently arrived at, as we can see, lead to the glaring disadvantage for those, such as Gary McFarlane, who dare to hold dissenting views. This is quite a development from the accommodation which was once used in relation to minority groups.[3] For example that given to Sikh motorcyclists who need not wear motorcycle helmets as it would require removal of their turbans. Halal butchers are permitted differing standards to permit meat to be prepared in conformity with the religious dietary requirements of Islam.

In the past, accommodation did not jeopardise the freedoms and well-being of other groups in society, but alas we see that orthodox Christians are now to suffer considerably for not conforming to the establishment values on sexual behaviour. In truth there are many who see this as just dessert for those who, they feel, persecuted homosexual people in times past. For them the shoe is on the other foot and vengeance is an added bonus. It was such a view which seems to have prompted another reader of Pink News to opine of Lillian Ladele:

"She has failed the remit of the purpose of her job. Throw her out! Bringing this to court is a waste of time and taxpayers money. The law is the law, and must and should always takes presidence (sic) over religious scribblings, I am fed up of holy homophobes telling us they know better."

Stonewall's support for the sacking of Lillian Ladele was for "the sake of [Islington Council's] lesbian and gay council tax payers".[4] The Court of Appeal in Ms Ladele's case recognised that there was nothing to stop these taxpayers accessing the service[5] - it is just only that they could not demand the service of a particular individual. Orthodox Christian taxpayers in the area seem, in contrast, not to have their interests preserved in the case. The judge could find no support for the position of Ms Ladele in a "modern liberal democracy".[6] The council's insistence that she perform civil partnership registrations "did not prevent her fromworshipping as she wished", stated Lord Neuberger.[7] This does not instil confidence that religious freedom is seriously understood even by a man described as one of the brightest legal minds in the country.[8] One supposes that Thomas More should have approved Henry Vlll's actions as long as he could still get to Mass on a Sunday.

In approving her dismissal another commentator, Rose, states: "Too right. She has spent a year appealing an (sic) re-appealing and getting her name in the papers about it. It's time she accepted she was in the wrong." This perhaps gets to the nub of the problem. What if Ms Ladele is wrong? Does it mean that she has no place working in our society? Rose may be happy to see her values of right and wrong imposed on society at present but what will it mean when she herself is deemed at some time to be wrong on a socially disputed issue? Should her livelihood be removed from her to underline the point? Is there to be no room for dissent?

False Utopia

Such punitive measures hardly reflect the values of an authentic liberal democracy. Rather, they betray the totalitarianism of a false Utopia, warned of by John Paul II, which arises when justice is detached from freedom.[9] The Church's social vision, built on principles of justice, peace, freedom and solidarity,[10] presents, this writer would submit, values which serve much better if we want to uphold the dignity of the human person. Intrinsic to that dignity is the rich understanding of religious freedom elaborated by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council:

"This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."[11]

Since religious freedom is based on the inherent dignity of the human person there is no question of it permitting the treatment of individuals to be based on the view that some are of a lesser dignity than others. One commentator makes the important observation that homosexual feelings are not chosen. For example, the contributor Luke cited above continues his comment by stating:

"People need to understand that, just because people choose to engage in homosexual behaviour does not mean people choose to have homosexual feelings. Having these feelings is a deep-rooted phenomenon, far more deep-rooted than having particular religious beliefs (and this is important, considering that Ms Ladele would never be allowed to refuse to marry people because they are of the wrong religion)."

That feelings of same-sex attraction are not chosen is indeed, as far as I am aware, often true. However, human dignity is not based simply on our feelings but is linked to our radical capacity rationally to direct our actions. Some may argue that it is right to follow homosexual feelings while some may argue it is wrong. The secularist may see little reason for self-restraint but compare that with feelings of anger. The secularist no doubt will, in contrast, see very good reasons for controlling those feelings. In short, some issues are more easily agreed upon because the social interest is more easily understood. When addressing issues around sexual feelings we are dealing with a subject where the answer on how to deal with feelings is not sufficiently clear to everyone that a consensuscan be found. Albeit I may believe that I have strong arguments with which I may wish to convince others of my opinion. Opponents think likewise, so how does a liberal society resolve the point?

The value of a Christian approach to issues of conscience is that they permit those who disagree still to have a place in our society, subject to the due limits of public order.

Many within the homosexual movement are individuals who have been alienated or hurt; they typically have little chance of hearing an authentic version of the Christian view on sexual relationships or to understand all the temptations and confusion that can arise in this area. It is not surprising that their attempts at achieving acceptance have been marked with great emotional vigour which can turn to hostility when opposed.

Thus Christians may be a convenient target for the wrath of the equality movement, but attacks on Christianity are misplaced. It will be the Church which defends the dignity of all persons when the levers of power move from the present hegemony that favours the homosexual lobby to another hegemony that may just as easily not. Where then will their calls for tolerance find support when they have used the principle that might is right and those who are in power determine the minority rights which must 'trump' the rights of other minorities. But sadly those in power have no room for doubting the Tightness of their views and are intent on imposing conformity of views through their equality legislation.

Religious freedom is willingly sacrificed and will be increasingly so when the Equality Bill introduced by Harriet Harman is implemented. Mark Foster, minister for equality, gives an Orwellian spin to the new legislation as an opportunity for Churches to challenge secularism.[12] They will do this because the law will give the green light for Churches to be prosecuted by homosexuals who disapprove of Christian views such as that which holds that only couples born of the opposite sex should marry each other. This "opportunity", he claims, allows the Churches to show how strong their arguments are. They will of course be judged by courts typically secularist in mindset and now at the cutting edge of introducing a new, inappropriatelylabelled, "liberal democracy".

Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane's experience highlights that the current legal framework and the extension it is about to be given are greatly in need of a corrective built on a thorough understanding of Man in general and of religious freedom in particular. Only this can provide an authentic key for the tolerance which secular advocates of equality champion so vociferously. Tolerance is in fact coherent with, and has flowed from reflection upon, the teaching of the Catholic Church, which inherently calls for charity in all things. Acceptance that there is a truth makes it possible to be tolerant. Without this it inevitably leads to a battle to impose the views of the powerful on the rest.

The homosexual lobby has a victory for the time being but they are in fact following the path of their intolerant predecessors who they blame for not tolerating their behaviour. The truth is that society frequently fails to deal in a balanced way with ideas that it does not approve of or support. It may be that those in the past who did have same-sex attraction did not get the support or understanding that was needed. There is unfortunately a subtlety which can be hard for society in general to grasp in relation to social norms. It is for such reasons that in the past those who were deserted by a spouse were stigmatised in some communities; the fact that divorce was viewed as wrong made it easy to conflate feelings for those involved with disapproval of the objective evil of divorce.Likewise those who genuinely find that they are attracted to persons of the same sex have been unjustly stigmatised and alienated. That had to be wrong.

Article 9 of the European Convention of human rights supports religious freedom. It is testimony to the fact that rules and institutions cannot ensure the maintenance or creation of justice. The liberal elite who occupy the positions of influence in deciding cases under human rights or equality laws tend to use them as a tool to achieve the results that conform to the fashionable values they have absorbed or which prevail in the social environments in which they live, are educated and work.

Renewing Civilisation

The challenge is therefore to have religious freedom more widely articulated and more deeply understood by public authorities and those who contribute to creating social norms. Promotion of religious freedom is not special pleading by people of faith; rather it is an effort to protect the precious core of the human person, the conscience, which is the deepest forum of human freedom.

The reality is that those really concerned about human dignity are those who are willing to place faith in moral absolutes which safeguard that dignity against the uncertainties of cultural trends. The new orthodoxy does a very different thing; it places faith in the whims and trends of the culturally influential. Unfortunately, their belief in their own righteousness, on their own authority, gives them a disdain for those who dare disagree. We who disagree, aware of the frailty of each individual person, especially ourselves, rely on the tolerance of that weakness. The Church, contrary to the caricature, greets weakness with the recognition that we are all so afflicted, and offers forgiveness, while also remaining ready to diagnose truth and falsehood.

Christian values have been in the dock for some time in our society. On the defensive they can at best stand still but the last decade has shown that they are more likely to retreat rapidly from public life. Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele would probably have laughed ten years ago at the idea that they might lose their job for failing to cooperate in supporting homosexual relationships. Many are oblivious that a similar fate could befall them if they happen to stand in the path of the equality juggernaut. Preventing more people suffering for their faith will require Christian values to be taken onto the offensive. At present this urgently requires a well-argued case for religious freedom;[13] without it Christians will certainly sufferbut society will suffer immeasurably as it loses the spirit of Christianity which has contributed so essentially to the freedoms and values which have benefited it for so long.[14]

N.B. This April the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is due have its delayed debate and vote upon the document, "Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity".

[3] Dan Boucher gives a thoughtful account of the change in approach under the current legislative approach in the briefing paper 'A Little Bit Against Discrimination?' produced by CARE, available at
[5] Ladele v London Borough of Islington [2009] EWCA Civ 1357 (15 December 2009).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Lord Neuberger named Master of the Rolls', Times Online, 23 July 2009.
[9] Ecclesia in Europa, JohnPaul II, 98.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Dignitatis Humanae, Second Vatican Council, Paragraph 2.
[12] Daily Telegraph, 19 Dec 2009.
[13] Cf Ecclesia in Europa, John Paul II, 41.
[14] Cf Ibid, 121, and Pope Benedict to EU reps, 19.10.09.

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