The Human Rights Act is protecting the rights of minority groups while encouraging judges and politicians to discriminate against Christians, a senior bishop said yesterday. Oh well, shit happens.
The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, warned that the death of “religious literacy” among those who made and administered the law had created an imbalance in the way in which those with faith were treated compared to sexual minorities. Highlighting the case of Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor who was sacked by Relate for refusing to give sex therapy to a homosexual couple, he said that the judiciary now went out of its way to protect the rights of minorities.
At the same time, for the first time in British history politicians and judges were largely ignorant of religion and so failed to appreciate the importance Christians placed on abiding by the scriptures rather than the politically correct values of the secular state. The Bishop’s concerns were underlined by Lord Woolf, a former Lord Chief Justice, who agreed that in some legal cases the balance had gone “too far” in tipping away from Christians. His words echo recent warnings from other church leaders about what they perceive as attacks on Christianity.
The critique of the Human Rights Act is likely to fuel the criticism of David Cameron for failing to abide by a pre-election pledge he made to replace the controversial European rules with a home-grown Bill of Rights. Other recent high profile legal cases involving Christians include bed and breakfast owners sued for turning away two homosexuals who wished to share a bedroom, and adoption agencies forced by the Government to close their doors after they refused to place children with same sex couples.
Bishop Scott-Joynt told the BBC’s World This Weekend: “The problem is that there is a really quite widespread perception among Christians that there is growing up something of an imbalance in the legal position with regard to the freedom of Christians and people of other faiths to pursue the calling of their faith in public life, in public service. 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.
”The risk would be that there are increasingly professions where it could be difficult for people who are devoted believers to work in certain of the public services, indeed in Parliament. 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.”
Appearing on the same programme, Lord Woolf said that the law should be the same for everyone, regardless of faith or lack of it. But, he conceded: “We may have gone too far. If the law has gone too far in one direction, then the experience of the law is that it tends to move back. The law must be above any sectional interest even if it is an interest of a faith but at the same time it must be aware of the proper concerns of that faith. The law should be developed in ways that, wherever practicable, it allows that faith to be preserved and protected.”
The Bishop’s words echo those of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who has put his name to the “I’m Not Ashamed” campaign, which promotes the rights of Christians. He produced a leaflet earlier this month claiming that Christians of “deep faith” faced discrimination and were “under attack” at the start of a campaign to encourage religious people to “wear their faith with pride”.
The Human Rights Act has come under increasing criticism in recent years for protecting the rights of minorities including criminals over those of the wider population. Before the general election, Mr Cameron had promised to scrap the Act in favour of a British Bill of Rights, but with the Liberal Democrats supporting the current system, introduced under the last, Labour government, the plans were effectively kicked into the long grass following the formation of the Coalition.
Earlier this month, there was anger after it emerged that a failed Iraqi asylum seeker who killed a 12-year-old girl in a hit and run accident could not be deported because he had fathered children in this country and the Act upheld his right to a family life. The case followed that of Learco Chindamo, who killed head teacher Phillip Lawrence but escaped deportation to Italy, his country of birth, on the grounds that he had moved to Britain as a child and had a right to remain in this country. He has since been returned to jail after allegedly breaching the terms of his licence by being involved in a street robbery.
Meanwhile, Rosie Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, has warned that the Government’s planned programme of welfare cuts could harm the “honest, hardworking” poor as well as those seeking to abuse the system. In an article in a Sunday newspaper, he said that the children of the poor had not chosen to live in poverty, and should not be forced to suffer. To the likely anger of ministers, he also questioned Mr Cameron’s concept of the “Big Society,” saying that people wanted more concrete evidence of investment in their communities.