I don’t often repost information from a previous article I’ve written, expecially one posted only a few minutes ago, but this is important enough to merit such action.
To be absolutely clear, while researching Northern Ireland’s version of the Sexual Orientation Regulations for this post (I generally research as I write) it has emerged that Churches HAVE been afforded a number of exemptions in the regulations that will permit them to continue to discriminate against the gay community.
Specifically a Church may:
1. RESTRICT membership of the organisation;
2. RESTRICT participation in activities undertaken by the organisation or on its behalf or under its auspices – this would exclude refusing access to youth clubs, breakfast and after school clubs, lunch clubs or even a Church-run tea dance.
3. RESTRICT the provision of goods, facilities and services in the course of activities undertaken by the organisation or on its behalf or under its auspices – for example, refusing to serve a gay couple in a church tea room would appear to be permissible, and
4. RESTRICT the use or disposal of premises owned or controlled by the organisation – for example, the could refuse to hire out the church hall to a gay couple for a reception after a civil partnership ceremony.
From my reading of the regulations, this does not:
A. apply to non-Church run Christian groups.
B. apply to activities and serivices for which the receive state funding, or
C. prevent them being sued for harrassment.
With B, in particular, being the main source of claims that Church-run services and activities will have to close if the same regulations are introduced in the rest of the UK.
This is NOT about ‘religious liberty’ but about, largely, retaining access to state funding while continuing to provide services and activities that discriminate against the gay community.
If, the article in the Independent, today, is correct in its assertion that Ruth Kelly is unhappy with Peter Hain for ‘jumping the gun’ in introducing the regulations in this form – even allowing for the concessions to religious prejudice that are already present – it can only mean that she may be planning to:
A. Afford churches (at least) some protection from claims of harrassment.
B. Extend the privileged status given to Churches in Northern Ireland to non church-based religious groups.
C. Water down or remove entirely the provisions that prevent Churches (and possibly non church-based religious groups) from discriminating against the gay community in the provision of services for which they received state funding.
It is bad enough that Churches in Northern Ireland have already been handed a licence to discriminate – looks like your halo’s slipping there, Peter – but it would complete unacceptable for further concessions to be made, particularly in regards to protect from claims of harrassment and access to state funding, which should categorically not be available to groups that discriminate against any community on irrational grounds.