SORry, that’s going too far

There is a huge amount of fuss in the UK papers at the moment about the impending implementation of the new Sexual Orientation Regulations. The regulations, being pushed through to begin in Northern Ireland on the 1st January and at the moment looking as though they will be implemented in mainline UK by April, will make it illegal to deny the provisions of goods or services to anybody based on their sexual orientation. That might sound OK, but it has huge implications for the church and for yours truly.

Let’s say you have a church hall. At the moment if the local GLBT social group want to hire it for a function you have the right to deny them that privelige. From the moment that the SOR is implemented such a denial, based on conscience, faith and tradition, will be illegal and liable for prosecution. That means that if the aforementioned social club, proposed to be held on my church property, is designed to be an environment to pick up people for sexual activity that I personally believe is contrary to the word of God, it would be illegal for me to refuse to host it. How about holding a reception to celebrate a Civil Partnership? SOR says I cannot refuse if other people hold parties in the same building. Bottom-line – I could go to jail for my faith in Jesus by refusing to provide that service.

Leading Bishops in the Anglican and Roman churches are warning that this is an outrageous attack on civil and religious liberties and strikes to the heart of the freedom to practice one’s religion. It may lead to a damaging split between the Government and the Churches in England. And don’t think that Nazir-Ali is being sensationalist in his response that “youth clubs may close”. In many, many towns across the UK the only youth clubs in existence are run in church properties. If the only way to prevent church buildings being used for what I and others believe are unGodly purposes is to close them down then that means that hundreds of youth groups in areas that desperately need them will be closed as well.

All the Government has to do to get around this is to build in a religious conscience clause and the problem will go away. But the elements in the Government that want to push this legislation forward won’t let that happen, so we are set for a showdown over the next few months. In particular, Northern Ireland is shaping up to be the initial battle-ground as the likes of Ian Paisley and the Roman Catholic archbishops unite in opposition. Cool huh what God can do when the heathens move?

But the deeper problem with the act has been highlighted by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship who argue that since the law allows for prosecution if an individual felt that they had “been subjected to a ’humiliating or offensive environment'”, that means that if I stand up and give my testimony of healing from sexual brokeness or preach on the subject of homosexuality and somebody in the congregation who self-identifies as gay finds it offensive, I could be prosecuted. Or take it further (and I haven’t seen this argument anywhere else so I claim the rights!!!) – Could I be prosecuted for refusing to give Communion to somebody who I knew was willfully engaging in gay sex and not repenting? Would that mean that their “dignity had been violated” even though I was exercising traditional Christian (and Anglican) discipline?

I’m not sure what the answer is. On the whole I have been broadly in favour of things like the removal of Section 28 and the guarantee of equal employment rights (to prevent people being sacked for being gay – which used to unfortunately happen). I might even have a flicker of support for non-Christians entering into Civil Partnerships. But the line I draw in the sand is when I am prosecuted for being a Christian, sharing my testimony, preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments in a loving, disciplining way. What will happen when that line is crossed? Who knows? Let’s see if the Government is foolish enough to push it through in Ulster and what happens there.

Oh, and for the record, I’m right behind Cranmer when he says:

Cranmer agrees wholeheartedly with this. He just wishes the words had come from the Archbishop of Canterbury – the man who is supposed to be the thorn in the side of a morally corrupt and intellectually deficient government.”

Come on Rowan. (The Church of) England expects everyman to do his duty, and that includes you.

12 Comments on “SORry, that’s going too far

  1. Peter
    I really don’t believe it is true. The NI regulations provide a huge exemption for church bodies. The making available of a church-owned hall to outside organisations is entirely at the discretion of the owner. If you think otherwise, please show me where it is in the NI regulations.

  2. The problem with the regulations are that they don’t cover things in specifics, so we’re going to have to wait for the case-law to really understand the implications of the Bill on the ground. And while there might be some protection for official church bodies, how do you define what is and isn’t a church? What about a charitable trust that owns a hall. What about a private christian individual who owns a hall?

  3. Keep on reading to section 16(6)… it doesn’t cover every single lay Christian in the world, I grant you, but it does cover all lay persons acting on behalf of a religious body as defined in 16(1) which itself is quite widely drawn by comparison with other earlier regulations.

    NONE of us mere public yet knows what will be in the “mainland” regulations, there is no “bill” involved. But we are all, aren’t we, assuming that it will be highly similar to the Northern Ireland version. If that assumption is wrong, then of course all bets are off.

  4. 16(6) is completely inadequate – it goes against individual freedom of thought and conscience – one should be able to act as an individual person of faith – 16(6) requires someone to act on behalf of an “organisation” in order to be in the clear. We will need to look to judicial decisions to see what the ambit of 16(1) will actually be.

  5. Exactly the point Gregory – thanks.

    Simon, the issue is not just to do with churches acting in the capacity of their congregations, it is as much to do with private individuals with traditional christian beliefs being forced to act against their conscience. Some elements of the establishment wish to bulldoze this and other measures through with little regard for religious conviction. Take for example the case of the Magistrate who asked to be taken off adoption cases involving same-sex couples. He didn’t say that he thought that the Government should ban such adoptions, he simply said that his religious convictions made it impossible to do his job properly when faced with such a case. All the authorities in question there had to do was to recognise the conflict with his faith and simply ensure that others took the cases which would have caused him a conflict of interests. Did they do it? No – they insisted that he took them and in doing so demonstrated that they weren’t prepared to take Christian religious belief into account in the allocation of work.

  6. Peter, I am no expert, but I really don’t believe what you say.

    Unless I am receiving public funds, nobody can tell me who I should rent my own property to. That is total scaremongering nonsense.

    Further, you cannot be prosecuted for being offended in someone else’s church.

    Please stop publicising this rubbish.

  7. Gregory’s point was not, as far as I can see, included in Peter’s original list of complaints. Moving the goalposts during debate is fine, but let’s recognise it when it happens.

    I think I agree with both Gregory and Peter that these regulations will limit the freedom of some private individuals in some cases to take some actions. The case of the Yorkshire Magistrate is however entirely unrelated to these regulations. The question is whether a reasonable balance has been struck.

    The proposed rules about renting property may well be more restrictive than Joe imagines. However, I agree with Joe that what we need is less scaremongering and more reasoned discussion.

  8. OK, let me clarify for Joe (Hi Joe!!!) and Simon that I have linked to the pieces in the Telegraph and the Mail to give some media context (*cough* in the same way Ruth Gledhill has). I can see from reading the NI act carefully that as a licensed minister of the Gospel I am more or less protected by the law (though we won’t know that for sure till the first test cases), but what about private individuals or Christian ethosed charities? Are they protected from preaching and teaching in public the traditional Christian view? That’s not quite moving the goalposts, it’s expanding the argument in response to the debate going on here.

    I raised the issue of the Yorkshire Magistrate because I wanted to show that there is a gentle but firm push amongst different areas of the establishment to have a disregard over matters of christian conscience. In that respect is DOES have a bearing on the above discussion.

  9. I agree this is a conundrum, although I feel closing the hall might be the option preferable to jail. I wouldn’t see it as going to jail for my belief in Jesus, I would see it as going to jail for my belief in the sanctity of the human body and marriage. It’s more of a mouthful.

  10. Not sure if this relevant but wasn’t there a case a couple of years ago with a B&B owner refusing accomodation to homosexuals because he didn’t want them using his beds for their sort of sex? Why shouldn’t he be able to decide who uses the rooms that he owns. We have moved too far beyond tolerance.

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