Apropos of my last article on the rantings of Mad Mel on the subject of the government’s proposed Sexual Orientation Regulations (consultation document – pdf), I thought I’d take a bit of a closer look at the campaign being conducted, in the main, by a evangelical group called the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, which seeks express exemptions from these regulations for religious believers.
Before moving ahead to look at the LCF’s campaign, its worth putting this group in it proper context – on it’s website its gives a very brief ‘history’ of the organisation as follows:
Originally founded in 1852, in London, as the Lawyers’ Prayer Union, LCF has grown to become a national organisation with around 1500 members at every stage of the legal profession. We have strong links with the Association of Christian Law Firms and also have many international links.
It’s also a registered charity, with a current annual income of around £250,000 per year, derived largely from donations and tax recovered via the gift aid system and from conferences & fundraising events and recieves no public money.
This background information is important because it demonstrates that what we have here is a pretty mainstream evangelical Christian group and not a Christian Voice-style bunch of religious wing-nuts.
Against this, however, the Law Society of England and Wales, alone, gives its present membership as being of the order of 116,000 practising solicitors, to which can be added around 14,500 practising barristers, who are regulated by the Bar Council. Even without adding in the figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have their own professional/regulatory bodies, LCF represent a very small proportion of the total number of lawyers in the UK, less than 1%, and should not, therefore, be regarded as representing mainstream legal opinion.
In addition to the obligatory press releases and the LCF’s public policy officer, Andrea Minichiello Williams, doing the rounds of various Christian news websites, the LCF has produced two ‘information and action packs’, one for churches and one for non-church Christian groups (both MS Word docs), which have been promoted through the ‘Christian Concern for Our Nation’ website, in addition to submitting a formal response to the government’s consultation, and it’s these I want to look at in more detail.
To begin with, the LCF’s general position is quite succinctly summed up by this statement, which accompanies the information packs on the Christian Concern for Our Nation (CCFON) website:
Why is it [the Sexual Orientation Regulations] a problem? Firstly, we must stress that Christians are commanded to love all their neighbours (including homosexuals) equally. Christians would never want to be homophobic or discriminate against homosexuals out of bigotry or prejudice. Christians of course earnestly desire the repentance and salvation of homosexuals.
However, the Bible is clear that the only rightful sexual relationship for which we were created, is a relationship between a man and a woman in the context of a legitimate marriage. Consequently there are times when Christians need to be free to discriminate against homosexuals in order to make it clear that we believe in the Bible’s teaching that homosexual practice is wrong.
I supposed the best one can say about this group is that they’re at least open in their hypocrisy – they would never want to be homophobic or discriminate out of bigotry or prejudice (really?) but they still need (supposedly) a statutory right to discriminate against homosexuals simply because of their sexuality.
Well, let’s take a look at what the dictionary has to say on the subject of prejudice:
1. a. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
The mere that an individual may be homosexual says little or nothing about the kind of person the might be or the kind of relationships they might have or be in at any particular time, therefore, to judge them and their character in an adverse manner purely on their sexual orientation would clearly fit the dictionary definition of prejudice, the thing that Christians would never want to be (allegedly).
Right from the outset, the assertion that prejudice and discrimination do not go hand in hand looks to be little more than hypocritical sophistry, not that we find this to be an uncommon feature in the LCF’s arguments as is apparent when we move on to look at the actual views forwarded to the government in response to its consultation:
The Bible teaches that all people are created equally in the image of God and all are loved by God (Genesis 1 and John 3:16). The corollary is that as Christians, we support the outlawing of unjustified discrimination, and therefore support the Government in their implementation of anti-discrimination legislation regarding race, sex and disability. Such legislation has been a helpful tool in seeking to redress injustice in the treatment of different (often marginalised) people in society.
So far, so good, at least as regards discrimination on grounds of race, gender and disability, but what about other forms of discrimination?
In the consultation it is stated that
‘By introducing these regulations, we will be treating sexual orientation discrimination with the same seriousness afforded to discrimination on the grounds of disability, sex, race and religion or belief’.
We are of the view that it is a mistake to approach the issues of religion (and belief) and sexual orientation, as directly comparable to race, sex and disability. While race and sex are fundamental to a person, unalterable, and incontrovertibly fixed at birth (disability can be fixed at birth or at a later stage), religion and sexual orientation are not of the same nature. People cannot by their volition change their race or their sex or their disability, but they can (and do) change their religion or their sexual orientation.
So the logic here is that while its wrong to discriminate against individuals in regards to factors over which they have no choice, things are very different when its come to facets of their character or lifestyle in which they are perceived to have a choice as to their beliefs and/or behaviour.
This is an interesting line of argument to say the least – for one thing it assumes that one’s sexuality is a matter of absolute choice, as if to suggest that one might arrive at the conclusion that you are attracted to someone of the same gender after carefully contemplating the alternatives or even wake up one morning and decide that you’d quite like to give being gay a try to see if it suits you.
Such a view is patently absurd and entirely contrary to the mainstream scientific position on homosexuality, which is set out here in a factsheet on the website of the American Psychological Association:
What Causes a Person To Have a Particular Sexual Orientation?
There are numerous theories about the origins of a person’s sexual orientation; most scientists today agree that sexual orientation is most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors. In most people, sexual orientation is shaped at an early age. There is also considerable recent evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s sexuality. In summary, it is important to recognize that there are probably many reasons for a person’s sexual orientation and the reasons may be different for different people.
Is Sexual Orientation a Choice?
No, human beings can not choose to be either gay or straight. Sexual orientation emerges for most people in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.
Can Therapy Change Sexual Orientation?
No. Even though most homosexuals live successful, happy lives, some homosexual or bisexual people may seek to change their sexual orientation through therapy, sometimes pressured by the influence of family members or religious groups to try and do so. The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable.
Is Homosexuality a Mental Illness or Emotional Problem?
No. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals agree that homosexuality is not an illness, mental disorder or an emotional problem. Over 35 years of objective, well-designed scientific research has shown that homosexuality, in and itself,is not associated with mental disorders or emotional or social problems. Homosexuality was once thought to be a mental illness because mental health professionals and society had biased information. In the past the studies of gay, lesbian and bisexual people involved only those in therapy, thus biasing the resulting conclusions. When researchers examined data about these people who were not in therapy, the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness was quickly found to be untrue.
The psychological underpinning of individual sexual orientation have been studied extensively over many years without producing any credible evidence to support the view put forward by the LCF despite the many attempts made by religiously motivated researchers to ‘prove’ that homosexuality could be ‘treated’ and ‘reversed’, as this overview of so-called ‘reparative therapy’ from the University of California Department of Psychology shows:
In many of these behavior-change techniques, "success" has been defined as suppression of homoerotic response or mere display of physiological ability to engage in heterosexual intercourse. Neither outcome is the same as adopting the complex set of attractions and feelings that constitute sexual orientation.
Many interventions aimed at changing sexual orientation have succeeded only in reducing or eliminating homosexual behavior rather than in creating or increasing heterosexual attractions. They have, in effect, deprived individuals of their capacity for sexual response to others. These "therapies" have often exposed their victims to electric shocks or nausea-producing drugs while showing them pictures of same-sex nudes (such techniques appear to be less common today than in the past).
Another problem in many published reports of "successful" conversion therapies is that the participants’ initial sexual orientation was never adequately assessed. Many bisexuals have been mislabeled as homosexuals with the consequence that the "successes" reported for the conversions actually have occurred among bisexuals who were highly motivated to adopt a heterosexual behavior pattern.
The extent to which people have actually changed their behavior – even within the confines of these inadequate operational definitions – often has not been systematically assessed. Instead, only self reports of patients or therapists’ subjective impressions have been available. More rigorous objective assessments (e.g., behavioral indicators over an extended period of time) have been lacking (Coleman, 1982; Haldeman, 1991, 1994; Martin, 1984).
Some psychoanalysts claim to have conducted empirical research demonstrating that their "therapies" are able to change gay people into heterosexuals. Their studies have multiple flaws, including a lack of safeguards against bias and a lack of control groups. Rather than having patients evaluated by an independent third party who is unaware of which patients received the "reparative therapy," these studies are simply compilations of self-reports from psychoanalysts who are attempting to change their patients’ sexual orientation (and who are highly motivated to report "success").
The rational, scientific view of sexual orientation is, therefore, both that it is a rather more complex matter than simply a choice between heterosexuality and homosexuality, between which there exists a state of uncertainty or confusion that is bisexuality, but rather that sexual orientation is a continuum within which individuals find and express their sexual feelings without conscious choice as to what those feeling might be or how they might manifest themselves. Choice, in this context, is not a matter of making positive determinations about one’s sexuality so much as repressing those aspects of one sexual feelings that one is uncomfortable about expressing, most often in response to external factors particularly social pressures arising from religious, social and cultural beliefs.The view, therefore, that sexual orientation should not be according the same status as race, gender or disability in formulating anti-discrimination legislation is not only false but also highly repressive and damaging to individual.
LCF then goes on to state:
The corollary of our view that it is wrong to treat sexual orientation as equivalent to sex, race and disability, is that it is a mistake to use legislation to try and regulate and control attitudes towards sexual orientation. In our opinion, society ought to be left to draw its own conclusions about sexual orientation, just as it has in past centuries. Whether or not one agrees with other people’s views on sexual orientation, there has always been a freedom to hold, put forward, discuss and debate any personal view about sexual orientation. This is a facet of our highly prized freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and freedom of expression. The problem is that the Regulations may allow someone to express a view about sexual orientation, but may equally deny them the right to live according to that view. This strips the value away from the right to freedom of expression. Only where there is a compelling justification should the state take away a person’s freedom to act in accordance with their beliefs.
Because of our opinion that sexual orientation is dissimilar to sex, race and disability, it is also our opinion that there is no compelling justification for removing from society the freedom to act according to their views on sexual orientation (subject to what we say below). For the Government to try and regulate and control people’s attitudes to sexual orientation by seeking to eliminate discrimination in the way people behave indicates, in our view, an illegitimate attempt to ‘nationalise’ a private moral issue.
This segement of the LCF’s response takes us quite neatly back to the commentary from Reynolds vs United States, from which I quoted yesterday in commenting on Melanie Phillips’ article on this same subject, specifically this statement:
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.
This is fundamental essence of all current anti-discrimination legislation in addition to that which relates to free expression and freedom of thought, belief and conscience – one is entirely free to hold whatever views and beliefs on wishes, no matter how prurient and without risk of penalty of law.
However when one comes to manifest those views and beliefs in the form of certain actions, which can include the publication or public utterance of those views, one may be subject to certain constraints and restrictions in the interests of public order or of certain social duties; hence the existance of laws covering libel and defamation, threatening behaviour, incitement to hatred of various forms and the commission of other criminal offences and criminal conspiracies and, of course, laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplaceand in other aspects of everyday life.
LCF’s view is that ‘only where there is a compelling justification should the state take away a person’s freedom to act in accordance with their beliefs’ and in this case such a compelling justification is clearly present in prohibiting discriminatory behaviour that infringes on the civil rights and liberties of the gay community.
Somewhat more amusingly, the LCF appear to have failed entirely to recognise just how easily they can be hoisted on their own petard by their own line of argument – if society is justified in disregarding the legitimate claim of the gay community to equal treatment and the prohibition of discrimination based on their sexual orientation simply because the regarded by Christians as having the capacity to choose their sexual orientation, then one must surely be equally jusitified in taking the very same attitude toward Christianity and ita adherents, and indeed other religions, given that as the LCF state:
We are of the view that it is a mistake to approach the issues of religion (and belief) and sexual orientation, as directly comparable to race, sex and disability. While race and sex are fundamental to a person, unalterable, and incontrovertibly fixed at birth (disability can be fixed at birth or at a later stage), religion and sexual orientation are not of the same nature. People cannot by their volition change their race or their sex or their disability, but they can (and do) change their religion or their sexual orientation.
Moving ahead with the LCF’s response we come to a glorious little treatise on the nature of homophobia, which is well worth highlighting:We are concerned that the approach taken by the draft Regulations is not focussed precisely enough on the type of discrimination which the Government seeks to eradicate, and therefore the scope of the Regulations will inadvertently criminalise the expression of legitimate views on homosexuality.
Although it is not stated expressly, the tenor of the examples of discrimination given in the consultation indicate that the mischief which the Government is seeking to deal with through these Regulations might be better described as discrimination on the grounds of homophobia, rather than on the grounds of sexual orientation. Homophobia can be defined as an irrational prejudice against a person based on a dislike of their homosexual behaviour or their sexual orientation towards people of the same sex. Our conclusion that this is the sort of behaviour that the Government want to eradicate is supported by the statement on the Women and Equality Unit website which says:
‘In December 2003, the Employment Directive, which outlawed discrimination and harassment in the workplace on the grounds of sexual orienatation, came into force. The new law means that it will be unlawful to deny lesbian, gay and bisexual people jobs because of prejudice’
Entirely distinct from irrational (homophobic) prejudice against homosexuals, is the Christian teaching, first codified around 3300 years ago, that homosexuality is sinful and not a right way for people to live their lives. This Biblical doctrine has been followed by millions of believers across the centuries. It is not an irrational homophobic prejudice, it is a conviction, based on a belief that the Bible is the word of God, that in accordance with clear Biblical doctrine, homosexual conduct is sinful and wrong. Consequently our response to the draft Regulations is founded on the Bible’s teaching (see further, below).
The examples of discrimination given in the Consultation are not examples of this latter doctrinal Christian view that homosexual practice is not equal to heterosexual married practice, they are examples of unjustified prejudice towards homosexuals by people who have an irrational dislike of those who are attracted to people of the same sex. Because of the failure to distinguish between these two foundations for discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation (homophobia or Biblical doctrine) the Regulations currently make it illegal to discriminate on either ground in relation to the provision of goods, services and facilities etc.
Did you follow that?
Outlawing discrimination founded in irrational prejudice (i.e. homophobia) is fine because prejudices based on Biblical doctrine aren’t (supposedly) irrational. This is a basic logical fallacy called an appeal to authority (argumentum ad vericundium), one in which, as a society, we are expected to accept the view that Christian’s should be permitted to discriminate on grounds of sexuality solely on trust in the authority of the text of the Bible.
There is no rational argument here, we are simply expected to accept that LCF and those who take a literalist view of the Bible, should be entitled to put their prejudices into practice because those practices are founded on scripture. And yet, in reality, Biblical reference have been used over the centuries to justify all manner of prejudices and discriminatory practices that are, today, prohibited; including racism, slavery and institutionalised gender inequality to name but three. If, as a society, we can reject the presumed authority of the Bible in those areas, then why should we not also reject its view of homosexuality in the same way, as being one that is woefully outdated and therefore, one that we have simply outgrown to the point that it has no further relevance.
In the same way that we have no difficulty in rejecting the validity of prejudice founded on political or cultural beliefs, we should have no problem in rejecting those founded on religious beliefs – Christian prejudice against homosexuality rests on no more solid foundations than those to be found in Fascism’s prejudice against Jews, both relief on an unquestioning belief in a highly questionable authority for which there is no concrete evidence.
The blatant sophistry continues unabated in the LCF’s next line of argument, in which they attempt to ‘explain’ Biblical teachings on homosexuality:
We are concerned that the approach taken by the draft Regulations is discloses a failure to fully understand Biblical doctrine relating to the issue of sexual orientation.
The Bible teaches that Christians (and indeed all people) should love a person irrespective of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation being defined as an attraction to someone of the opposite sex, someone of the same sex, or people of both sexes. A homosexual orientation per se is, according to the Bible, not wrong. Everyone undergoes temptation and temptation to do something is not in itself sinful. Therefore, we would endorse and support the Government’s attempt to eradicate discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation per se in much the same way as we support their desire to eliminate homophobic discrimination.
However, the Bible is clear that to act on a homosexual attraction and to practice homosexuality is sinful and wrong. The distinction may appear semantic, but in fact it is of great importance. People who discriminate based on sexual orientation are discriminating on a personal basis – because someone is attracted to people of the same sex. On the other hand, Christians following the Bible have no desire to discriminate against that person at all, but in order to obey the Bible, Christians must discriminate against that person’s conduct. Of course, discriminating on the grounds of a person’s conduct will often result in indirectly discriminating against the person themselves, but the difference in intent and emphasis is key.
Again, we are of the view that the discrimination which the Government seeks to eradicate is the unjustifiable discrimination against a person based purely on their orientation, it is not the discrimination of a Christian who discriminates because the Bible teaches that homosexual conduct is not equal to heterosexual conduct in the context of marriage.
Because of the failure to distinguish between discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and on the grounds of sexual practice, the Regulations currently make both unlawful. The onus is on the Government not to draft a law which inadvertently renders illegal a justified doctrinal view, however hard it is to frame that law to capture only unjustified discrimination. If anything, we think this difficulty further illustrates our view that this issue is not well suited to legislative intervention.
Again, the position here is one of manifest hypocrisy in which, in the case of homosexuality, we are expected to accept an artificial distinction between their sexual orientation and whether and how they express that orientation in terms of actions, but when it comes to Christians their actions are indivisible and indistinguishable from their beliefs and, consequently, they are justifed in discriminating against homosexuals – this is nothing more than purile rubbish of the highest order.
So far, we’ve covered the basic principle of the LCF’s arguments, none of which stand up to rational/logical inquiry, but what of the practical aspects of their views?
One of the LCF’s main contentions is that these new regulations will force Christians to act against their beliefs and consciences, which sounds like a matter for concern, until one starts to look at the kind of examples given by the LCF to illustrate their arguments:
Example 1: an advertising company when interviewing for a new post will have to start asking all interviewees ‘would you refuse to advertise an event that encouraged homosexual practice’. A Christian who answered ‘yes, I would refuse’ would not be given the job because the employer would understandably not want to risk taking on someone whose views might place the employer in breach of the law in the future. Therefore the Christian would effectively be being discriminated against on the ground of their religion.
Example 2: any Christian teacher working in a state school would be liable to be sacked if they refused to teach the equivalence of homosexuality to heterosexuality because this would place the school in breach of the Regulations. In the future the school would be more wary about recruiting Christians because of their religious views that homosexual practice is sinful, and so would discriminate on the grounds of religion.
The first example given is complete and utter rubbish – there is no express requirement in law, not even in existing anti-discrimination statues, which would require an employer to question a candidate at interview about their attitudes towards homosexuality, race, gender, disability or anything other field in which discriminatory conduct is prohibited, although many employers, particularly in the public and voluntary sectors, do include a generic question about candidates understanding of equality and equal opportunities.
Discrimination in employment on religious grounds is already unlawful under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, which the LCF neglect to mention here, or in their information packs, such that one can only conclude that they are indulging in deliberate scare-mongering in an effort to artificially induce a moral panic on this issue amongst their potential supporters and so give rise to an inflated response in support of their position.
Example 2 is equally spurious in as much as it would, first and foremost, apply only to a very limited range of subjects – in most state secondary schools only science, if dealing with sex education, Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), and possibly Religious Education – very few teachers could, therefore, be affected in the way suggested.
More importantly, teaching children about the Christian view on homosexuality should present no difficulty whatsoever if one goes about it in a strictly factual manner in which children are invited to reflect on plurality of opinions on the subject – but then that’s the real problem here, which arises because the hypotetical teacher’s objection in such a situation is not predicated on education but on indoctrination in which the objective is not to teach pupils that Christian’s believe homosexuality to be sinful but to directly teach them that homosexuality is a sin and thereby pass on theri personal prejudices, irrespective of whether they beliefs are shared by pupils, their parents, or the school itself.
Personally, if these regulations did limit the scope for Christian’s to make use of the state education system to indoctrinate children in their prejudices then this all to the good and can;t come soon enough – even if I doubt that this will be the case in practice. In any case it is well with the capacity of schools to permit a teacher to withdraw from teaching a particular element of the curriculum if that creates difficulties of conscience for the teacher, a furnish a replacement for such lesson who has no such problem. In fact from personal experience, schools and colleges have in the past also withdrawn individual teachers from lessons where it was felt that they might go beyond education and into direct indoctrination due to their personal beliefs. This happened at the sixth form college I attended many years ago, where an openly Marxist sociology lecturer was not permitted to teach that portion of the ‘A’ level curriculum that dealt with Marxism for fear that he might attempt to indocrinate students and recruit them into Marxist politics – complete irrational bullshit, of course, but the college did it anyway and used another tutor for those sessions.
LCF follow up these example with a fairly banal exposition on the relative merits of articles 9 (religious freedom) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in which they argue that their version of religious liberty – i.e. the right to discriminate – trumps the rights of the gay community not to be discriminated against in the provision of goods and services, one in which they fail to notice the usual qualifying codecil, which applies to almost all the articles, excepting 3 (prohibition of torture) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination):
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Before returning, again, to the subject of free expression and education:
Prima facie the Regulations make it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the content of the education given in both secular and faith schools. For example, to teach that homosexual practice was wrong and not equivalent to heterosexual practice within marriage would clearly count as discrimination against any homosexual students – it is undoubtedly ‘less favourable treatment’ which is ‘on the grounds of sexual orientation’. The syllogistic conclusion is therefore that under the draft Regulations as they stand, it would be illegal to express the view in schools that homosexual practice is not equivalent to heterosexual practice within marriage.
In fact, prima facie, it would not be unlaw to express the view in schools that homosexual practice is not equivalent to heterosexual practice within marriage in the context of explaining the nature of Christian belief, it may be unlawful for schools to proselytyse and indoctrinate on that particular subject, which would be no bad thing at all.
Frankly, if Christians, whether in the context of a church or community group, wish to indulge in indoctrination then they can do on their own time and in a context where pupils (and parents) have a choice as to whether they wish to be exposed to such ‘teachings’ – they should not expect the state to facilitate such a course of action, nor should the state support such actions.
Central to most of the LCF’s arguments is the contention that beliefs and actions are, for a Christian, entirely indivisible, this, again, being a position justified solely on Biblical authority:
The previous paragraphs have highlighted that the current proposals for the Regulations cover and render illegal discrimination even if it derives from a genuine expression of Christian doctrine about homosexual practice. On an initial reading, it might seem that a Christian who believes in the Bible need simply be given the freedom of conscience to believe homosexual practice is wrong and be given freedom of speech to express that view to others. However, it is of course trite to point out that almost all religions, and certainly Christianity, demand the devotion not just of the follower’s mind and lips, but also, critically, of their actions. There is no value to declaring that homosexual practice is sinful and wrong if your actions then run completely contrary to that view…
By definition Christianity is not a purely personal faith or private set of beliefs: Jesus’ command to all Christians is to go to ‘all nations … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19-20). This requires more than mere words. Christians are charged to live with integrity (Titus 2:6-8), which means not just professing the Bible’s teachings, but also acting in accordance with them. It would be anathema to Christianity to allow Christians to profess Biblical teaching but to force Christians to act inconsistently with that teaching. Firstly then, any law which does not provide freedom for Christians to discriminate on the grounds of the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality, denies every single Christian the freedom to live with integrity.
And yet no such consideration is afforded to homosexuals, whose sexual orientation, and therefore sexual behaviour, is an intrinsic element of their personal character – as here in their suggestion for ‘improving’ the definition of what constitutes discrimination:
…one possible way of addressing all the problems we have identified would be by defining more accurately what is meant by ‘sexual orientation’ discrimination so that the new law would only capture:
a) homophobic discrimination (where homophobia is defined as an irrational prejudice against a person based on a dislike of their homosexual behaviour or their sexual orientation towards people of the same sex) rather than discrimination based on a religious doctrine regarding homosexuality, and
b) discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, but not discrimination on the grounds of sexual conduct.
Leaving aside, for a moment, their unsustainable assertion of rationality based solely on scripture on has to wonder quite how (b) would work in practice. How, exactly, do they suggest that Christians should go about ascertaining whether a particular individual is a practising or non-practising homosexual before decided whether it would be legally permissible to discriminate against them?
One of the example scenarios about which the LCF has got hot under the collar is this one:
It would be illegal for Christian run hotels, bed and breakfasts, sheltered accommodation or community housing projects to refuse a homosexual couple a room with a double-bed (or any similar arrangement) if the refusal was based on the fact the couple were practicing homosexuals.
Even if the hotel etc. refused un-married heterosexual couples a room with a double-bed, there would still be a real danger of prosecution if they also turned away gay lovers: it is not hard to anticipate that either those gay lovers or a court might struggle to accept that the hotel was discriminating not on the grounds of sexual orientation, but on the ground of the Bible’s teaching that it is wrong to have homosexual or heterosexual sex outside marriage.
On top of this, it would be illegal in any case for the hotel etc. to refuse to let such a room to a gay couple who had a registered civil partnership, because the Regulations treat such a partnership as equal to a heterosexual marriage. There is no doubt that being forced to let a room with a double bed to homosexual lovers would be to force the owner / staff of the premises to facilitate homosexual conduct and would go directly against the Bible’s teaching.
The assumption, presumably, would be that the mere fact that the homosexual couple in question were seeking to book a double room would indicate that they are practising homosexuals, which may or may not be the case – even in this day and age, celebacy remains a valid lifestyle choice for some and, in fact, courtesy of the HIV virus, long-term celebate relationships are not all uncommon within the gay community.
So just what are the LCF expecting here? That gay couples should have to sign some sort of affidavit attesting that their celebate state on check-in or submit themselves to intrusive questioning by the proprietor before being permitted a room? Or is the expectation here that hotelliers would be permitted a legal defence based on a ‘reasonable belief’ that the couple in question were practicing homosexuals, one in which the burden of proof in demonstrating that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and not conduct rested with the complainant?
Given that this has been drafted by lawyers, one would expect the latter to be the case, knowing full well that in such cases would be near impossible for the plaintiff to prove that discrimination had arisen out of their sexual orientation rather than their sexual conduct – there is one way to be sure if this is what LCF actually intends, which is to put forward the proposal as being one that should be considered for inclusion in the regulations, but only on the basis that the burden of proof as to whether the discriminatory action was based on sexual orientation or sexual conduct rested with the defendant and not the plaintiff, as is now the case in race and other discrimination cases in employment.
I think it obvious how LCF would respond to a proposal.
Elsewhere the source of this groups prejudices and concerns is made more obvious:
It would be illegal for Christian housing or accommodation providers to prioritise provision of accommodation to married heterosexual couples over homosexual couples, even if the providers had genuine and logical reasons for such prioritising. For example, the accommodation providers might have a concern (based on evidence) that the homosexual couple would encourage other vulnerable (adult) tenants to engage in homosexual practice.
For a Christian housing provider to be forced by the Regulations to prioritise a homosexual prospective tenant whom they had reason to believe would lead others into homosexual practice, would be to force them to act against Biblical teaching by facilitating and enabling homosexual practice.
It could also, depending on the circumstances, be illegal for a Christian hostel etc, to try and evict a resident who had not initially declared their sexuality but who then sought to seduce or have a relationship with another adult of the same sex in that hostel. Biblical teaching about the sinfulness of homosexual practice would make it incumbent on the Christian running the hostel not to tolerate such homosexual practice within their institution and so in this example the Regulations would again conflict with the Bible.
What we have here is nothing more than good old-fashioned "backs to the wall, lads" homophobia dressed up as an allegedly legitimate point of concern and the unsustainable assumption that homosexuality equates to predatory sexual behavior as a matter of course… and of course, it doesn’t. what is clearly expressed here is the fear that contact with homosexuals may certain individuals to investigate and explore their own sexuality and sexual orientation and throw off the shackles of religious repression – that is homophobia however much this group would like to pretend otherwise.
Elsewhere in their submission, the LCf’s analysis of the proposed regulation is simply plain wrong as here:
It seems that according to the Regulations churches who use their premises for (heterosexual) weddings (this would also fall under the ‘provision of a service’ head as well) would be required to accept civil partnership ceremonies on their premises – to refuse to do so on the grounds of the sexual orientation of the couple seeking to book the venue would be unlawful.
Further, because the consultation makes it explicit that any discrimination between married heterosexuals and those with Civil Partnerships will be direct discrimination, it would clearly be illegal for a church to refuse to be a venue for a reaffirmation of civil partnership ‘vows’ whilst allowing reaffirmation of marriage vows.
It is clear from the consultation and the other Equality Enactments that churches count as service providers. As the proposed Regulations currently stand, baptisms, dedications, christenings and confirmations that take place in a church would all count as ‘services’ – they are services which offer a benefit to the ‘general public’ and which cannot be accessed other than through a church.
The Regulations could cause a number of problems in this regard. One can envisage a vicar having difficulties of conscience and doctrine in allowing the gay parents of an adopted child (gay adoption being lawful under the Adoption Act 2002) to declare in a christening service that they ‘renounce evil and sin’, and promise to bring their child up according to God’s rules and principles (this is in the liturgy of the christening service in the Church of England), whilst they clearly and manifestly do not renounce their homosexual relationship. However, the Regulations currently make it unlawful to refuse to christen based on the sexual orientation of the parents.
It is clear that the Regulations as they currently stand will make it illegal for every single Christian vicar, minister and pastor in Great Britain to act in accordance with the Bible.
Further, holy communion would count as a service according to the definition of a service given by the consultation, and a vicar would thus be breaking the law if he were to refuse to administer communion to a self-confessed practising and unrepentant homosexual who had a registered civil partnership, if the refusal was based on that person’s sexual orientation.
What the consultation document actually states is:
3.32 Churches, mosques and many other religious organisations advance their faith or belief through activities such as worship, teaching and preaching, officiating in marriage, conducting baptisms and giving sacraments to members of their religious community. We recognise that there may be circumstances where the new regulations could impact on aspects of religious activity or practice in the light of the doctrines of some faiths concerning sexual orientation and the beliefs of their followers. We need to consider therefore the application of the regulations in these areas.
3.33 We are interested to hear views on the impact that the regulations may have in these areas, particularly where the regulations may impede religious observance or practices that arise from the basic doctrines of a faith. Any exceptions from the regulations for religious organisations would need to be clearly defined and our starting point is that these should be limited to activities closely linked to religious observance or practices that arise from the basic doctrines of a faith.
3.35 In line with the Equality Act 2006 provisions in relation to discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, we are not proposing to exempt activities that are provided by an organisation related to religion or belief, or by a private individual who has strongly held religious beliefs, where the sole or main purpose of the organisation offering the service is commercial.
3.36 Similarly, we propose to apply the prohibition on sexual orientation discrimination to organisations – including churches, a charities or other similar groups with a religious ethos – that are contracted by a public authority to deliver a service on its behalf.
All of which amounts to an open invitation for faith groups to suggest exemptions specific to discrimination in religious/doctrinal practices – in practice there is little or no prospect whatsoever of these regulations extending to religious ceremonies such as marriages, baptisms, etc. Not only would one expect a specific exemption to be included in the regulations but, in relation to civil partnerships, the registration process covering venues at which religious weddings take place is different from that which relates to civil ceremonies, where the licence granted covers both civil weddings and civil partnerships.
In practice, mainstream Christian churches will be largely unaffected by these regulations due to the licensing regime thet operate under – the Church of England and the Church in Wales are automatically permitted to register marriages in law while priests of other denominations and faiths can be accorded the same authority on application for a licence to their local superintendent registrar – in the case of Jewish and Quaker weddings such licences are granted automatically.
Only where such a licence isn’t granted, with the result that couples have to undergo a civil ceremony in addition to the religious ceremony could an issue around parallel rights for civil partnerships arise and then only if the venue (i.e. church, mosque, etc…) is, itself, registered for the purposes of conducting the civil ceremony – if all a particular venue provides are religious ceremonies then no such issue arises.
Nothing in the present consultation document suggests that the government intends to apply these regulations to religious services and therefore override church doctrine – it may well be that this is not clear in current draft regulations, but then these are a first public draft and, therefore, far from being a complete and full expression of the government’s intentions for these regulations.
A number of the other practical examples of where the law might impinge on religious freedom, according to the LCF, are particularly revealing as to their prejudical and homophobic attitudes, for example:
Any large churches who provide auxiliary services to the community such as restaurants, libraries, bookshops, counselling etc would be at risk of costly allegations of discrimination (costly in terms of legal fees and adverse publicity) if they sought to restrict the access of certain homosexual individuals to those services, even if they only sought to restrict them because the individuals concerned were known to be seeking to cause trouble.
Not only is this not true – discrimination law, across the board, does not provide mitigation for or protection of bad conduct – but the idea that a church might refuse to set someone a cup of coffee and a sandwich simply because of their sexual orientation does rather fly in the face of the LCF’s assertion that:
Christians would never want to be homophobic or discriminate against homosexuals out of bigotry or prejudice.
Likewise, we have…
Any Christian charity or organisation that used public money to rebuild/extend premises or provide a service will come under a legal requirement that in the use of those premises and services they do not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. There is already significant pressure on many Christian groups and organisations who have received crucial local authority funding (possibly including lottery funding) to allow all local groups to have access to their new facilities. There is a big danger that Christian organisations will have their freedom to decide who to support and provide services and goods to curtailed to an even greater extent and will therefore be forced to act contrary to Biblical doctrines.
To which the only valid response is to note that if any group or organisation feels itself unable to comply with extant equality regulations in any area, not just sexual orientation but race, gender, disability, age, etc then it should feel entirely free not to ask for public money and have no expectation of receiving any. You’ll have to excuse me here, but as a tax payer I object strongly to funding the prejudices of any group and so have no sympathy at all for this kind of argument.
Worse still, we have this:
Under the Regulations as they stand, a school (whether a faith school or otherwise) would be unable to discipline or exclude a child because that child was seeking to encourage others to practice homosexuality or advocating that they experiment with homosexuality.
Let’s not forget here that in the eyes of evangelical Christians, merely holding and expressing the opinion that homosexuality is a valid sexual orientation is considered to be encouragement to practice homosexuality – again were back to indoctrination and the avoidance of dissenting views but here in such a way as would permit a child to be excluded from school for nothing more than accepting, uncritically, that a classmate may be gay. Nowhere is is more obvious than in this statement that the real concern of LCF is to reserve to faith schools the unfettered right to inculcate prejudice and homophobia in children.
The LCF puts forward three specific recommendations for amendments to the draft regulations as follows:
1) Sexual orientation discrimination should be defined more accurately so that the Regulations only prohibit homophobic discrimination and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, whilst leaving those who hold genuine religious doctrinal beliefs free to discriminate on the grounds of homosexual conduct.
2) The protections afforded in the Equality Act 2006 Part 2, designed to guarantee freedom of religion, should be mirrored in the proposed Regulations. In addition, there must be a clause added to protect the religious freedom not just of organisations, but also of individual believers. Finally, the protections for religious organisations should extend to organisations which could be described as wholly or mainly commercial.
Alternatively3) The protections afforded in the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, designed to guarantee freedom of religion, should be mirrored in the proposed 2006 Regulations. In addition, there must be a clause added to protect the religious freedom not just of organisations, but also of individual believers.
The blatant sophistry of their first recommendation I’ve already dealt with – one cannot reasonably divorce sexual conduct from sexual orientation, and it is entirely unreasonable to accept arguments for such a distinction from groups who, in turn, put forward the view that their own actions are indivisible from their beliefs. In this case one, if the law is to accept that there is no separation between beliefs and actions for Christians then one must accept the indivisibility of sexual orientation and sexual conduct in the same way.
Alternatively, if one accepts the separation between sexual orientation and sexual conduct that is proposed here, then one must also apply the same distinction to matters of belief and action by Christians in the interests of equal treatment and take the view that while they may freely hold such beliefs as the Bible indicates, it is entirely right for the law to intervene where those beliefs are translated in to discriminatory actions.
However, it seems highly questionable as to whether the proposed distinction between discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and on grounds of sexual conduct is workable in law, certainly without overt and draconian intrusions into the privacy of potential plaintiffs, such that it would seem that the underlying intent of this proposal is to render the law unworkable and hopelessly biased against those whose rights the law is ostensibly intended to protect. Such a distinction could be reasonably made only if the burden of proof rests, as it does in discrimination law in employment with the respondent and not with the plaintiff, once it has been established that a discriminatory act has taken place.
The second recommendation seems largely redundant – there is no necessity to ‘mirror’ the regulations in Part 2 of the Equality Act within these regulations, which are issued under the same act. There is, however, no justification for amending the provisions of the Act in repect of their application to individuals or to extend provisions covering religious organisations to those that are largely or wholly commercial – there is a fundamental difference between excluding an individual from a religious ceremony on doctrinal grounds and refusing to sell them a cup of coffee, one may be arguably justified by belief (even though I personally disagree) the other most certainly cannot.
As regards the third and final recommendation, the protections afforded in the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 stand unless specifically amended or repealed by Parliament. What the LCF appear to asking for here, failing acceptance of the other two regulations, is much the same kind of exemption that was slipped into employment law at the last minute, but applied to goods, services, etc. The problem here is that the two sets of regulations are not co-terminus in scope and application primarily due the lack, in provision of goods and services, of a principle analogous to that of a genuine occupational requirement in employment law, from which to judge whether the actions of the provider are proportionate and, therefore, lawful.
It would seem to me that there are few legitimate occasions upon which one could safely establish, in relation to the provision of goods and services, a genuine requirement to discriminate based on a proportionate balance between doctrinal observance and the right of an individual not to be subjected to discrimination.
Other than in direct doctrinal matters, i.e. specific religious services, there is to my mind no justification for exemptions on religious ground to the proposed provisions for prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, nor should any such exemptions be afforded to religious groups.