A Quick Religious Bullshit Round-up

As you might well imagine, the Catholic Herald is anything but regular reading at the Ministry.

Nevertheless, a couple of recent articles published in the Herald have caught my eye because they disclose one or two interesting tidbits of information in relation to issues I’ve covered in a number of previous articles.

The first of these articles is a formulaic romp through a Catholic Archbishop’s failure to recall that the Catholic Church have not had any say in the interpretation of English Law since the death of Mary Tudor in 1558.

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark has said the British courts are wrongfully penalising Christians through an “incorrect interpretation” of human rights laws.

The archbishop said judges were guilty of “woolly thinking” and a bias against Christians who either wore religious jewellery or who had taken a moral stand against acts they held in conscience to be sinful.

Nonsense.

If you take the time to read through any the key rulings on the cases that the Archbish is referring to (Eweida v British Airways, Ladele vs London Borough of Islington, McFarlane vs Relate Avon Ltd) you’ll find that the reasoning of the courts has anything but wooly in their consideration of the issues and their application of the law as it has been laid down by Parliament.

As you might well expect, the Archbish also indulges in the usual bien pensant whataboutery in regards to other religions:

Archbishop Smith said that although Sikhs and Muslims had successfully used the law to uphold a right to manifest their beliefs in such areas as religious attire and jewelry, Christians were denied the same right because the courts had decided that it was not essential to the practice of their faith.

“Why can’t Christians wear the symbol of the cross?” he asked in an interview with the American Catholic News Service.

“It is absolutely part of the Gospel,” he said. “Without the cross there is no salvation. It is at the heart of our faith because it is the symbol and sign of God’s unconditional love.”

Again, this is complete and utter nonsense.

Sikhs, in common with Jews, have a dual status in discrimination law as both a religious group and an racial/ethnic group and, so far as I’m aware, any extant rulings relating to the Sikh practice of wearing the five K’s, such as the longstanding and famous provisions in law which exempt Sikh motorcyclists from the requirement to wear a crash helmet, were made under the provisions of the old Race Relations Act.

Admittedly, I cannot recall the last occasion on which I actually saw a Sikh riding a motorbike – where I live, the Sikh community is doing very nicely so when you do see them on the roads, its usually in a BMW or a Merc 😉

In any case, neither the Sikh practice of wearing the five K’s nor the Islamic practice of hijab is directly comparable to the purely elective practice of wearing a cross or crucifix within Christianity.

The former are both explicitly mandated religious duties/obligations, although it has to stressed that in the case of hijab, although the general practice is afforded protection under discrimination law this does not automatically guarantee that any specific interpretation of that practice will be protected. Employers are, for example, under no express obligation to permit employees to wear the full veil and are fully within their rights to insist that female Muslim employees wear a tight-fitting ‘sports jilbab’ if this is considered necessary for reasons of health and safety, hygiene, etc.

As for Sikhs, my understanding is that most, if not all, NHS hospitals require Sikh employees to either conceal or remove one of the 5K’s, an iron bangle called the Kara, when directly engaged in providing patient care or, in the case of doctors and theatre nurses, when carrying out operations, in order to comply with hospital regulations on patient safety, hygiene and infection control – all of which passes without incident or complaint.

Christians are, of course, under no such obligations unless they are also members of the clergy in a church which regards the cross or crucifix as part of official clerical regalia and there is also no commonly held position with Christianity on the wearing of such symbols either – there are some protestant denominations that consider the use or wearing of such symbols to be idolatrous – there is no basis in either law or accepted Christian practice for the Archbish’s claim that wearing of the cross or crucifix is essential to the practice of the Christian faith.

If the Archbish wants to blame anyone here then he can start with the First Council of Nicaea, which codified the Bible in 335 AD but neglected to include anything about wearing crosses, crucifixes or any other specific symbols, and the Protestant Reformation, which broke the Catholic Church’s stranglehold on Western European Christianity and, in doing so, enabled many Christians to decide for themselves what does and doesn’t count as being essential to the practice of their faith.

That said, the real point of interest in this article is to be found in a single paragraph which clarifies the EHRC’s intentions in regards to its application to intervene in the four religious discrimination claims that are due to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights:

The commission wants to convince the European court that the law was wrongly applied in the cases of Mrs Eweida and Mrs Chaplin but correctly applied in the cases of Miss Ladele and Mr McFarlane.

So, the EHRC has decided that it will take on the relatively trivial matter of the wearing of religious symbols in the workplace which, in both the cases to be put to ECtHR arose only because the complainants chose to act unreasonably, but it is ducking the issue when it comes to the far more controversial cases which seek to claim a right, based on religious belief, to discriminate against members of the LGBT community, where it will seek only to have the judgements entered in those cases upheld.

This strikes me as amounting to nothing more than the EHRC throwing religious lobbyists a relatively unimportant and trivial bone in the hope of buying off a bit of criticism and it is to be hoped that ECtHR will see it for what it is, an act of appeasement and not serious legal proposition.

The other article in the Herald that caught my eye relates, inevitably, to Nadine Dorries and her recent, and wholly dishonest, efforts to impose unnecessary and unwanted constraints on women’s reproductive rights, although I’m in two minds as to whether to file this article under ‘Tendentious Bullshit’ or ‘No Shit Sherlock’.

Further to the abortion debate stirred up by the failed amendment of Nadine Dorries MP, I saw this letter in last week’s Sunday Telegraph:

In China, for every 120 boys, only 100 girls are born, with the result that by 2020 China will be missing 24 million girls. Could this be because, in China, one girl in six is killed by abortion before birth? Feminists should abandon their pro-choice demonstrations in London and, instead, demonstrate against abortion in China.

Whenever this argument is made, pro-choice feminists over here fall silent. I apologise to Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) for describing her in my last blog, slightly flippantly, as “ubiquitous” (even though she does seem to pop up everywhere with a read-made statement for the press when matters relating to abortion are raised), but when she wrote in the comment box, “Every woman should be able to make the decision she thinks is right”, she is not, as other posts have pointed out, giving that right to all those potential women and mothers aborted before birth.

Before we begin, we need to sort out a bit of – possibly inadvertent – misrepresentation here.

Taken at face value one could easily be forgiven for thinking that Furedi’s comment – which is incomplete and presented entirely out of context – relates directly to the letter cited above on the subject of abortion in China. In reality, Furedi’s comment is entirely unrelated to that letter, which appears here without any provision for comments, and it was actually made in response to this blog post which provides nothing more than a couple of anecdotes; one about a Catholic woman who is carrying conjoined twins that have little or no prospect of survival who has chosen not to have an abortion, the other about a woman who has told her unexpectedly pregnant daughter that she will support her if she choose to have the baby.

Furedi’s full comment under this blog post reads as follows:

Speaking from the ubiquitous Anne (sic) Furedi’s perspective – I have to say I don’t disagree with a word of this. Choice, is a choice – and whether you or I think it’s the right choice or not should be neither here nor there. Every woman should be able to make the decision she thinks is right. To have the baby, or not should be her decision. That why I belong to what we refer to as a pro-choice movement. I run an abortion service because there’s a need for it – as one choice – but I support I utterly defend women’s right and ability to make other choices two and I wish both of these women the very best for the future. And I know my view will be shared by every member of bpas staff.

Ann Furedi

Chief Executive, bpas

An eminently reasonable response particularly when contrasted with the rather idiotic statement that:

“Every woman should be able to make the decision she thinks is right”, she is not, as other posts have pointed out, giving that right to all those potential women and mothers aborted before birth.

No is that right afforded to many more female blastocysts that fail to implant in the womb, or the embryos and foetuses that are miscarried or the female children who die of disease, malnutrition and in natural disasters before ever having the opportunity to reproduce, ‘potential women’ whose untimely demise is, more often than not, ascribed by the less educated mass of religionists to ‘god’s will’ so as to avoid the necessity of straining their grey matter with deeply uncomfortable and problematic theological arguments arising from the concept of theodicy.

If one subscribes to the trite and unilluminating ‘god’s will’ doctrine then what does that make god, if not an abortionist par excellence?

As for the claim that pro-choice feminists fall silent in the face of the use of sex-selective abortions in China and India this is, of course, yet more nonsense and no more than another dishonest myth peddled by the anti-abortion lobby in an effort to discredit its opponents.

That said, it is again the case that the real payload in this article resides in what, to some, might appear to be no more than an inconsequential aside:

Incidentally, I talked to someone after Mass this morning who knows Nadine Dorries. They told me they think Dorries is much more pro-life than she lets on and that she calls herself “pro-choice” more for prudential reasons than anything else: so that other members of Parliament won’t dismiss her as being in the fanatical, pro-life, Catholic camp and might therefore take her arguments seriously.

But you can’t sit on the fence, Nadine. As this recent Parliamentary debacle shows, you will end up being trusted by neither side. You can’t be pro-life and pro-choice. You have to choose.

Yes, we already know that Dorries has operated dishonestly throughout the anti-abortion campaigns she has run over the last five years, which is why no one on the pro-choice side trusts or even believes a word she has to say on the subject without corroborating evidence from an independent and unbiased source.

Still, its nice to know that we not the only ones who’ve noticed.

 

 

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  • Andrew Norman

    The EHRC is being reasonably consistent in those four cases, wanting to have the decisions upheld where Christians are claiming the right to discriminate, but challenging decisions where (it might be argued) Christians are claiming the right to display a symbol of their faith in a way which will not cause harm to others.  Personally, I think it’s justifiable for employers to insist that when you have to wear a uniform, you don’t make any personal additions to it – otherwise, what’s the point of a uniform?

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  • jcj

    Personally I think that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression should be limited to the absolute bare minimum, i.e. where it is necessary for the safety of others.  Emphatically not where it is merely the preference of others, employers, political opponents or whatever.

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