Much as I generally try to avoid the febrile ravings of Mad Mel Phillips, her latest prurient missive for the Daily Mail is one that I simply cannot pass without comment:
The cause of Mad Mel’s latest rantings turns out to be a set of draft regulation being drawn up under the provisions of the Equality Act, regulation which, once adopted, will make it unlawful to refuse to provide goods or services to any individual on grounds of sexuality – and, as ever, in the eyes of Apocalypse Mel, this kind of thing takes one step close to the end of civilisation as we know it – here, see for yourself…
Would anyone ever have imagined that one day it would become illegal in Britain to teach children to follow precepts laid down in the Bible? Or that a priest, a rabbi or an imam might fall foul of the law by refusing to bless a sexual union between same–sex couples?
Yet that appears to be precisely what may happen as a result of new regulations soon to be introduced by the Government — and all under the rubric, would you believe, of producing a more tolerant and free society.
What Mel appears not to have noticed is that there are any number of biblical precepts that are already unlawful – and with very good reason. UK law, for example, tends to frown on the stoning of blasphemers – thank fuck for that – as commanded in Leviticus 24:10-16. Nor do we allow people to be put to death for working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2) and while I think most people might take a bit of a dim view of people who shag their in-laws, the law still doesn’t quite go for the proposed biblical solution – burning them to death (Leviticus 20:14).
Oh, and curiously enough, I do seem to remember something along the way about the UK abolishing slavery, which rather negates the bible’s advice in Leviticus 25:44, which suggests it okay to buy slaves as long as their foreign.
The point here being that there are numerous biblical precepts which may, quite rightly, be taught in their proper context (i.e. as passages in the Bible) but which it would be unlawful to put into practice; Exodus 22:18 -Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live (KJV) – is right out these days as well, much as I might suspect that there’s rather too many American Fundies knocking about who rather wished it wasn’t (but that’s another story).
As a society we’ve long since moved beyond biblical law to a point in which its readily recognised that principle and precepts laid down many hundreds, and even thousands, of years ago are simply no longer relevant to modern society and while such practices have ben outlawed, this has been achieved successfully without even seeking to expunge them from the Bible itself.
Not the best opening gambit then, but then Mel hasn’t finished…
The government has just finished consulting on new draft regulations under the Equality Act which would make it illegal to refuse to provide goods or services to anyone on the grounds of sexual orientation. The ostensible aim of these provisions is to end discrimination against gays, lesbians or bisexuals.
No-one should support irrational and bigoted prejudice against these or any other minorities. But one of the unforeseen side-effects of anti-discrimination laws is the way they have turned our very understanding of prejudice and discrimination inside-out.
Starting with the laudable objective of eradicating discrimination against minorities, they have been transformed instead into a weapon promoting discrimination against both majority and minority religious faiths.
It should go without saying that gay people and other sexual minorities should be free to practise their sexuality without being picked on in any way. What they do in private should be of concern to no-one else.
But equally, others must be free to voice disapproval of their lifestyles, particularly where this is a key element of religious faith. For like it or not (and this is, of course, an issue which is currently tearing the Church of England apart) the belief that homosexual behaviour is wrong is a tenet that is fundamental to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Okay, so here things get a bit more complicated.
Mel. so she says, thinks that no-one should support irrational and bigoted prejudice against these or any other minorities, which is fair enough as his her comment that others must be free to voice disapproval of their lifestyles, particularly where this is a key element of religious faith – I don’t agree with the prevailing illiberal view of homosexuality within mainstream religions of any kind but I’ve no great problem with people who do see the world that way voicing their disapproval providing they do it peacefully and without provoking irrational hatred or inciting people to commit acts of violence.
The trouble is that I get this horrible feeling that there’s a ‘but’ coming sometime soon, and I’m not going to like it…
The new regulations, however, would make it impossible for Christians, Jews and Muslims to continue to live according to this belief. This is because, although religious faiths gained an exemption under the Equality Act itself which otherwise would have threatened to outlaw the promotion of religion altogether, no such exemption has been granted over the issue of sexual orientation —which also covers sexual behaviour.
So church schools, for example, are protesting that they will no longer be permitted to teach in sex education or RE lessons that homosexuality is at odds with the teachings of the Bible. They might have to comply with parental demands that there should be lessons promoting gay issues —for example, by taking part in the recent ‘Lesbian Bi-sexual Gay and Transsexual History Month’.
Remember the epic battle over ‘Clause 28’, the law which forbade the promotion of homosexuality in schools and which was eventually repealed, in a notable triumph for the gay rights lobby? Well, these new regulations would be a Clause 28 in reverse. They would compel the promotion of homosexuality in schools — and forbid the promotion of Christian or other religious beliefs on the matter.
Lawyers say that the regulations would mean that churches, mosques or synagogues would be breaking the law if they refused to hire out their halls for gay civil partnership ceremonies. Clergymen would be compelled to bless ‘gay marriages’ on pain of breaking the law. It might even become illegal for a priest to refuse to give communion to someone on the grounds that they were a practising gay or lesbian.
Before getting into this section – having read the government’s actual consultation document – it worth noting one omission from Mel’s comments. In that last paragraph where is says ‘Lawyers say…’, that should read ‘Lawyers working for Christian groups opposed to the regulations say’ – I wouldn’t like to mislead my readers by letting them think that such a statement was based on an unbiased and impartial legal opinion.
In truth, it’s not clear at all that the new Sexual Orientation Regulations would have any of the effects detailed above, by Mel, when put into practice.
That homosexuality is at odds with certain teachings in the Bible is a statement of fact and there is nothing either wrong or unlawful in teaching that as a matter of fact in its correct context – as far as I can see there is no threat in the regulation to the ability of schools to educate and inform pupils as to the Christian position on homosexuality – all that’s required to stay within the law shouldthese regulations pass in the form suggested is that schools reflect on the existence of alternative points of view and allow pupils to reach their own conclusions as to whether they accept that position.
What may become unlawful is the direct indoctrination of pupils in the expectation that they will/should/must believe the Christian position to be the absolute literal truth from which no deviation is permitted and teaching in manner that is discriminatory and/or results in the victimisation of pupils who choose not to to subscribe to such a view, whether they are homosexual or not – and if that’s the problem here, which it certainly appears to be, then not absolutely no sympathy for Mad Mel’s arguments. The job of schools is to educate and enlighten not inculcate prejudice and ignorance and any faith group who cannot accept that has no business running a state-funded school – in fact faith groups have no business running state-funded school, full stop, but again that’s another argument.
From what I can see there also absolutely nothing in these laws that would compel a school to participate in something such as the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transexual History month, although it would be no bad thing if they did, nor would they force schools to actively ‘promote’ homosexuality. The whole argument Mel puts forward here remains as disingenuous and deceitful today as it was when it used in support of Clause 28 – to religious bigots like Mel promoting homosexuality means not applying her preferred brand of moral opporobrium every time it get a mention – in Mel’s shitty little world one can teach homosexuality only in the context of teaching children that its wrong and morally/spiritually unacceptable, a view from which we can readily conclude that her pretensions of supporting equality are no more than hypocritical bullshit.
As for the contention that this new law would mean that churches, mosques and synagogues would be forced to hire out their hall for civil partnership ceremonies or that priests may be compelled to ‘bless’ civil partnerships or be prohibited from refusing communion to a practising homosexual, this is complete and utter scaremongering bullshit.
Unlike Mel, and seemingly the lawyers working for Christian groups on this campaign, I’ve actually take the time to look into both the conditions that the draft regulations propose to put in place and the licencing process for venues seeking to conduct civil weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, and the picture one gets if one does the research is completely different to that which Mel suggests.
First, these regulations would apply – in the case of civil partnerships – only those venues registered for the prupose of condicting civil wedding and civil partnership ceremonies AND (crucially) building used as places of worship on a regular basis are not permitted to be registered for civil ceremonies – quite naturally they have to be registered for conducting religious ceremonies. There is no question in law, therefore, of any church, synagogue, mosque, gurdwara ot other recognised religious building being required to hold civil partnership ceremeonies – the only time such an issue could arise is where a church, etc. registered an entirely separate building (e.g. a Church Hall) as a venue for civil ceremonies, whcih seems a pretty unlikely trun of events.
Aside from the registration issue, the other thing Mel’s failed to notice from the consultation is that, in the case of religious organisations, the prohibition on discrimination in provision of services on grounds of sexuality applies only to ‘commercial services’ provided by the church or on church premises – religious ‘services’, which would certain include weddings and communion, are specifically exempt from these provision.
In short, Mel is talking complete and utter bollocks here and really should publish a retraction and apology for misleading her readership on such a basic and clear matter of fact.
Mel continues is the vein in her next paragraph.
In other words, it would become an act of illegality to put into practice a cardinal tenet of religious faith, including the Christianity that is the established faith of this country and which underpins its values and lies at the very core of its identity.
We have therefore exchanged one deep intolerance for another. What was previously forbidden has now been made all but mandatory. Behaviour that was once considered socially unacceptable and even illegal must now be promoted as an acceptable lifestyle choice, and anyone who disagrees is to fall foul of the law instead.
Yes, gays and other sexual minorities should have full equality before the law. But that means they should not be treated aggressively or unfairly by being singled out for different treatment in areas of life where they are playing the same part as everyone else.
What Mel is doing here is simply indulging in good old fashioned hypocrisy – if interfering with a central tenet of religious faith is such a terribly bad thing, as Mel suggests then perhaps she’d care to revise her opinions on cannabis, the smoking of which plays a key role in Rastafarianism:
Yet the government has reclassified cannabis to be on a par with slimming pills, and has all but decriminalised it. That’s surely another kind of madness.
Or perhaps she’d reconsider her views on the Islamic practice of hijab (modesty), which some Muslim consider an important expression of adherence to their faith:
Banning the hijab (Islamic headscarf) in schools represented a flickering of the old national certainty as France sniffed the danger that had arisen in its midst. But it was too little, and maybe too late.
Somehow, I doubt Mel’s going to be in much of mood to recant on either, but that’s the point here, her reliance on religion as an argument for bigotry and prejudice has nothing to do with supporting religious freedom and everything to do with religious tenets supporting her own homophobic views and its fortunate at this point that the internet is primarily visual medium as by the time we get to her comment that gays and other sexual minorities should have full equality before the law the nausiating stench of hypocrisy emanating from here article would be sufficient to turn even the strongest stomach.
It’s a curious notion that Mel puts forward here; homosexuals (and other) should have full equality before the law, but such equality does not extend to the right not to be subjected to arbitrary discrimination due to their sexuality – how does one account for such a view?
Well perhaps this passage from Orwell’s essay ‘Anti-Semitism in Britian’ might help explain matters here:
But now let me come back to that point I mentioned earlier–that there is widespread awareness of the prevalence of antisemitic feeling, and unwillingness to admit sharing it. Among educated people, antisemitism is held to be an unforgivable sin and in a quite different category from other kinds of racial prejudice. People will go to remarkable lengths to demonstrate that they are NOT antisemitic.
The parallel should be obvious here, just as with Anti-Semitism during the 1940’s, on which Orwell commented, homophobia is widely though an unforgivable sin amongst the educated classes in modern Britain such that even if one holds such prurient views one cannot admit to them and will go to great lengths to try to suggest that you’re not a homophobe – it’s just another variation on the old "I’m not racist but…" line, as Mel goes on to capably demostrate.
But the equality argument breaks down when it insists that everyone is entitled to receive precisely the same treatment despite the fact that their lifestyles may be radically different. This is not equality but what might be called ‘identicality’, or the enforcement of sameness even where circumstances are not the same at all.
Far from being fair, this is both fundamentally unfair and socially destructive. By insisting that sexual minorities are treated in an identical fashion to the majority, mainstream values are knocked off their perch. That is why the anti-discrimination agenda is actually a weapon aimed squarely at the bedrock values of this society.
That is the problem with the gay rights platform. It does not preach tolerance for gays; instead, it stands for the destruction of the very notion that heterosexuality is the norm.
That is why ‘gay marriage’ or civil union represent such a threat to our society. Under the attractive guise of promoting equality, it actually represents an attempt to undermine the special status in our society of a permanent, faithful sexual union between a man and a woman.
And that is why David Cameron’s reported views are so disappointing. In a speech this week Mr Cameron — who once again wrapped himself in the mantle of family man yesterday and spoke of finding new ways to support family life — is expected to say he would give gay couples the same rights as heterosexuals, including the same tax perks for civil partnerships as there are for marriage.
Mr Cameron wants to convey the message that the Tories are no longer prejudiced against gay people. Nor should they be. But is supporting a policy which undermines family life the best way to go about this? Is he really saying that gay partnerships are the same in value as heterosexual marriage? Is he really saying that two gay men raising children is equivalent in value to a mother and father raising their own?
By now, you’re probably thinking the say thing I am – she’s lost the fucking plot hasn’t she? On minute we’re talking about the Sexual Orientation Regulations under the new Equality Act and the next she’s off on rambling scherzo about civil partnerships and the end of the world as we know it.
I must admit I’ve never quite understood this idea that civil partnerships somehow undermine marriage – it’s not as any of those entering into civil partnerships were ever likely to queueing up to marry someone of the opposite gender in the first place and I’m neither so insecure about my own sexuality nor about the general satte of society as a whole to think that according gay and lesbian couples the same basic contractual rights as those accorded to those heterosexual couple who marry in civil ceremonies is going to turn into a nation of moral degenerates – quite frankly I’m already degenenate enough to satisfy my own requirements, so why should I give a flying fuck about what other people get up to in their own time.
Getting back to Mel’s article, we find:
What would he say, for example, about the former chairman of the South Yorkshire Family Panel who resigned because he was told he had to approve the same-sex adoption of children? He sought a compromise under which he would only adjudicate on cases of heterosexual adoption, but was refused.
He is now suing the Lord Chancellor’s department, arguing that his right to act on his conscience and his religious beliefs have been infringed. His case perfectly illustrates the grotesque situation we are now in, where under the guise of preventing discrimination the state is actually enforcing discrimination against someone who merely wants to provide children with the healthiest environment in which to grow up.
I really don’t know what Cameron would say, but personally I’d recommend ‘piss off, you bigoted piece of shit’ – the simple fact is that as a society we would not tolerate a situation in which a chairman of a family panel tried to refuse to adjudicate on cases because he objected to the ethnic origins or religious or political beliefs of the putative adoptees, so why the fuck should we tolerate such attitudes when it comes to matters of sexuality.
If the guy can’t do the job according to the rule, as set out in law, then tough shit – let him find something else to do that doesn’t affect his ‘conscience’ and quit whining about it – and so we come to Mad MEls’ closing gambit…
The equality agenda is presented as ushering in a new era of tolerance and equality. But this is not so. Instead, it has elevated the rights of sexual minorities above the rights of religious believers. This is because it is a specific attempt to secularise our society. Religious belief is thus relabelled as prejudice and duly outlawed.
But religious freedom and freedom of conscience are crucial to a liberal society. Once, religious wars took them away. Now they are being stamped out by secular law – and with them go the bedrock of our liberty.
Two final comments –
First, if the ‘equality agenda’ has elevated the rights of sexual minorities above the rights of religious believers then it has done so only be elevated the right of everyone to be treated as a rational human being above the rights of some religious believers to act to like a bunch of pig-ignorant bigoted twats, and as trade-offs between rights go that’s one I’m entirely comfortable with, after all…
It should go without saying that Christians and other religious minorities should be free to practise their religion without being picked on in any way. What they do in private should be of concern to no-one else…
…what they do in public (and public life) is another matter, as with everyone else.
Second, and without getting into a long essay on British history in order to demonstrate that the last time Britain had any religious ‘wars’ on its home turf (apart from over the water in Ireland) was a fucking long time before we could ever reasonably be considered a ‘liberal society’, perhaps the single most telling commentary on the role of religion and religious freedom is to be found not in the UK, but in this passage from the judgment in Reynolds vs United States (1879) in the matter of the US consitutional separation of Church and State.
In a little more than a year after the passage of this statute the convention met which prepared the Constitution of the United States. Of this convention Mr. Jefferson was not a member, he being then absent as minister to France. As soon as he saw the draft of the Constitution proposed for adoption, he, in a letter to a friend, expressed his disappointment at the absence of an express declaration insuring the freedom of religion, but was willing to accept it as it was, trusting that the good sense and honest intentions of the people would bring about the necessary alterations. Five of the States, while adopting the Constitution, proposed amendments. Three, New Hampshire, New York and Virginia, included in one form or another a declaration of religious freedom in the changes they desired to have made, as did also North Carolina, where the convention at first declined to ratify the Constitution until the proposed amendments were acted upon. Accordingly, at the first session of the first Congress the amendment now under consideration was proposed with others by Mr. Madison. It met the views of the advocates of religions freedom, and was adopted. Mr. Jefferson afterwards, in reply to an address to him by a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, took occasion to say: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the Government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the Supreme will of the Nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see, with sincere satisfaction, the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties." Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.
It should be remembered that many of those who braved the Atlantic crossing to settle in what was to become the United States of America did so expressly to escape religious conflict and persecution in Europe, to find a ‘new world’ in which they could practice their religious beliefs free from interference and state/church sanctioned repression, and was precisely this background that led Jefferson and others to the inescapable conclusion that the single most effective guarantor of religious freedom was a secular state in which there is a strict constitutional separation of church and state, one in which the state was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.
That last point is of particular importance here – while it would certain be wrong to seek to outlaw particular beliefs it is not wrong at all for the state to seek to regulate how those beliefs may be translated into actions where, as the judge in Reynolds puts it so aptly, such action are in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.
As a society we cannot simply legislate away bigotry and homophobia, however it may be founded, but we can legislate against discrimination and victimisation arising out of such beliefs and we are entirely right to do so.
After all, as Mel says herself, no-one should support irrational and bigoted prejudice against these or any other minorities, and what could possibly be more irrational than prejudice founded on the text of a 1700 year-old book of myths and folk tales.