Offensive to Pass Round a Petition?

This story from the Mail is unbelievable.

A Christian bus driver has been threatened with disciplinary action for taking a petition backing traditional marriage to work.

Arthur McGeorge, 58, from Consett, County Durham, was accused of being ‘homophobic’ and told to apologise for the offence he had caused.

The petition, which has attracted more than 125,000 signatories, opposes plans to allow same-sex marriage.

It states marriage is the union ‘of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others’.

A colleague at the Go North East bus depot, Stanley, heard about an ‘anti-gay marriage’ petition.

The manager asked Mr McGeorge to promise not to bring it back but he refused and now faces a formal disciplinary procedure.

He said: ‘I’m not prepared to be told what I can discuss in my breaks.’

In an email Unite said: ‘People have a right to views as long as they are not pushing their opinions on others or making them feel alienated.’

Mike Judge of the Christian Institute said: ‘This is yet another example of a complete over-reaction against Christian views.’

Let’s assume for one moment that Mr McGeorge was polite and respectful when he asked his colleagues, in their break time, whether they would like to sign this petition to maintain the current legal position. How is that possibly in anybody’s book a disciplinary offence? Outrageous. I hope he sues.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

23 Comments on “Offensive to Pass Round a Petition?

      • No I’m not being sarcastic. A key problem in this debate is that very few Christians (I don’t mean you Peter) make any effort to understand why gay people want “marriage” in the first place. Everyone forgets that gay people go to straight weddings all of the time – and often sit there wondering “Why is all of this (meaning the open display of love and support) not available for us?”

        Yesterday I bought a ‘congratulations’ card for one of the guys I supervise at work. He’s marrying his girlfriend next month.  I don’t know whether he is a Christian or not. Does it really matter when I’m buying him a card? I’d like to think I would do the exact same thing for a gay guy in the office. I still believe what I believe but I don’t see why I should belittle someone by denying him the common courtesy of wishing him all the best.

  1. Peter you are usually a stickler for checking sources so why do you take a story from the Mail at face value. How accurate has their reportage been? Have you checked?

    • I did qualify my comments in the piece. If you can add any extra information that would alter my opinion of this, please go ahead. At least here we have the ability to comment and present alternative views.

  2. Peter, even you have had to invent a assumption for Mr McGeorge, you’re assuming that he was polite and respectful, that there’s not a gay colleague who was the target of Mr McGeorge’s actions.  Clearly Mr McGeorge put someone’s nose out of joint as his actions provoked a complaint.  Now the employer has looked at it and decided that the best cause of action is just to ask/tell Mr McGeorge not to bring that petition in again (how many times does someone have to bring in a petition for the same people to sign?).  Mr McGeorge’s refusal to follow a reasonable instruction by his employer is insubordination and that is misconduct under most employment contracts.  Look at Ladele v London Borough of Islington for example, Ms Ladele wasn’t disciplined for her belief that civil partnership was wrong, she was disciplined for refusing a reasonable and lawful instruction to register civil partnerships. 

    Your encouragement that Mr McGeorge sues his employer would if followed make Mr McGeorge waste time, money and emotional effort when even on his side of the story he has no standing for legal action.  That wouldn’t be very fair to Mr McGeorge.

    • I agree Andy. If the way some high profile Christians have expressed their views was followed in the workplace this could be very divisive and destructive of corporate harmony. I think the company was quite right to want this kept out of the workplace. Even during breaks you are still on your employer’s premises and probably technically also on his time. If Mr McGeorge wanted to do it he should perhaps have invited his colleagues to meet him after work and not discussed it there. He’d be foolish to sue but I wouldn’t bet on the Christian Institute not egging him on
       – even offering to pay his legal expenses.

    • Let’s posit another scenario. Mr McGeorge said nothing about the petition until it was break time. He then brought it out and quietly asked if anybody else wanted to sign it, in the same way that other people pass round sponsorship forms or petitions. One of his colleagues decided to take offence, went to the management, and the management for the sake of a quiet life thought it was best just to ask Mr McGeorge not to bring it in. Mr McGeorge, quite rightly, pointed out that people passed around sponsorship forms and petitions all the time and it was utterly unreasonable to single him out because someone else had a different opinion to him.

      You assume he wasn’t polite, I assume he was, and until we know more we have to leave it there.

      As regards Mrs Ladele, the issue wasn’t so much that her job changed so that she now had to do Civil Partnership registration – most people’s jobs adapt and change over time. The issue I believe was whether Islington Council attempted to make any reasonable accommodation for her religious views.

      FWIW, I’m in two minds about that particular case. If I was in her shoes I can’t see a problem with registering CPs, but I can understand why she might have felt uncomfortable doing so. 

      • I’m not assuming that Mr McGeorge was not polite and respectful, but that doesn’t seem to tally with the complaint being made about Mr McGeorge’s actions.  It’s possible that I live a very sheltered life because I’ve never been asked to sign a petition during a work break.  You say that someone chose to be offended, is it not possible that they were genuinely offended?

        Let’s turn it on it’s head, imagine that Mr McGeorge worked with a Mr Dawkins. One day, Mr Dawkins puts around a petition that Christians should not be allowed to marry each other.  No matter how respectfully Mr Dawkins acted, his actions would reasonably be seen by Mr McGeorge as being anti-Christian.  What’s more, Mr McGeorge would have a duty of care owed to him from his employer that the workplace will be free of discrimination.  If the employer allowed Mr Dawkins to promote his anti-Christian views in the workplace, the employer could be in trouble.  

        What’s the difference between the anti-Christian scenario and the anti-gay one?

        • I wouldn’t be comfortable with someone handing around a petition that in some way sought to marginalise or persecute Christians.  But I hope I would be big enough to take it up with them on a personal level, and not resort to asking my employer to stop it.  

          But it isn’t an entirely fair comparison anyway – because this petition is about defending the status quo – whatever motivations might lie behind it.  So a more accurate similarity would be a “say no to the impending polygynous marriage proposals” with a muslim in the room.  Or a “say no to having more Bishops in the house of Lords”.  

      • Uncomfortable, why? Was it because she was in the presence of two gay people who were going public about their commitment? She was not being asked to “marry” them, only perform an administrative registration, not too distant from the kind of thing a solicitor might do in registering a will where the testator left everything to his same-sex lover. 

        • Precisely. Nor was she required to ask them, concern herself with, or fantasize about what they might or might not do together in the privacy of their home.

      • Peter, what would you say to someone, like a headmistress I worked under who said actually she was “uncomfortable” in the presence of black people? It was the whites of their eyes that spooked her. Racist or not? I wonder how Ms Ladele would have reacted if someone like my headmistress asked not to be married by her “because the whites of her eyes made her feel uncomfortable” or some such objection  e.g “she appeared to be a lesbian” or “I don’t want a Christian”.

        • I think that’s a slightly different issue. For the record, I probably agree 100% with you.

          Let’s get our facts straight on the Ladele case – she was a registrar before the CP change. For a while Islington accomodated her religious views, but then it arbitrarily refused to. Whilst I disagree with Ladele’s position that she felt unable to conduct CP registrations, I can understand her frustration that Islington, whilst perfectly capable of arranging a rota to accomodate her religious views, decided not to.

          • That was the weak point in their case and frankly they should have foreseen what might happen and prepared for staff who might have some objection. It could have been dealt with before the legislation became active by interviewing all their staff and pointing out in advance what the job contract now expected of them.

          • Why do you think she shouldn’t have had a problem with registering CPs?  Because they have no explicit romantic element? There is an option for a ceremony and it certainly has (or had until recently) been understood as a romantic ceremony for the vast vast majority in our society – the word “marriage” is oft used.  I can see that her position was shaky, but I understand it.  What if clergy were expected to bless any Civil partnerships that we were asked to?  Would the fact that they don’t technically have a romantic element make any difference?  

            • I just think Christians working and living in a Heathen society need to adjust to that fact. Registering Civil Partnerships is a necessary function of a Registrar’s Job these days. Of course, at the same time the State should try to accommodate the varying religious views of its employees, and the real issue with Ladele’s case is that Islington didn’t try to do that.

              • Further to this, I hope the government will encourage local authorities to put in place some form of job relocation or compensation in advance of the commencement for those registrars who really can’t in conscience perform a same-sex marriage. But they should have to pass a panel rather like conscientious objectors in war time had to, to convince them that they were genuine. They would have to have coherent reasons, (which I don’t think Ms Ladele has). For instance I would want them to make sure it wasn’t just homophobia parading under the cloak of religion.

  3. He was committing thought crime. How dare he not do whatever the government tells him is right !

    The sad part is we were once all proud of living in a free country – now we all live in fear.

    • I don’t, but then I’ve never wanted my free speech to harm anyone else.  If you want your speech to harm people then I guess your rights have been infringed.

  4. As part of this thread has gone in the direction of the Ladele case I’d like to chip in my thoughts. IMHO her case is a very important one because it has nothing to do with gay rights. It has everything to do with religious rights of conscience in the public service.

    It has nothing to do with gay rights as it was common cause in her case that her reasonable accommodation had absolutely no affect on the efficiency and quality of the civil partnership service rightly due to gay couples. She was being reasonably accommodated by voluntary rotation with other registrars quite happy to help her out. Gay couples receiving civil partnerships got the quality service they deserved and were none the wiser.

    She also raised her objections respectfully and followed due process to the letter, in contrast to Islington Council which shamefully abused her rights to privacy and due process, a point noted by the judge in her appeal case. There is no suggestion that she was anything other than respectful to gay people in her daily work.

    The core point in her case is that some people in Islington Council were offended that she was reasonably accommodated. The start of the case was a complaint by two gay registrars that were offended that she was being reasonably accommodated by voluntary rotation.

    The core of the resulting finding against her on appeal was twofold. Firstly, that under Islington Council’s ‘Dignity for All’ policy the Council had the right to demand that all registrars register civil partners. Secondly, that her belief that homosexuality is a sin is not a core belief of her religion.

    Both of these findings were of major concern for religious freedom well beyond her immediate case. Firstly, the ‘Dignity for All’ policy also prohibited discrimination on grounds of religion, so support for Islington Council’s decision was one of a number of recent cases that effectively created a hierarchy of rights, placing religious freedom below gay rights. Secondly, the court has no business in detrmining what is or not the core belief of a religion in a society that values religious freedom. It can only be concerned with effect of any belief on the rights of others.

    It’s important to realise that public, respectful expression of the view that homosexuality is a sin is protected by the Waddington Amendment to the Public Order Act, which states that:

    In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

    So Ladele’s beliefs and the way in which she expressed them were fully protected. The issue is, should she have been reasonably accommodated. She should have been because:

    1. The dignified civil partnership services rightly due to gay couples were not affected by her action.
    2. She was already being reasonably accommodated and could have continued to be reasonably accommodated.

    In a society that truly values freedom of religious belief that should have been the end of the case. It would have been different if her reasonable accommodation discriminated against gay couples by intefering in the services rightly due to them (for example, if she went stomping around the registry office complaining about civil partnerships). But she didn’t. It would have been different if she was in a Registry Office on the Western Isles where should couldn’t have been reasonably accommodated without affecting the service. But she wasn’t.

    The key point to remember is that this case is, at its root, about one of offense. She was being reasonably accommodated until two gay registrars claimed to be offended by the fact of her accommodation, which is what triggered the case. But the rights of these two registrars were unaffected by Ladele’s reasonable accommodation.

    ‘Offense’ is not a legal concept, quite rightly as it is impossible to define. IMHO it can only form part of law from the actions that result from offence. Ladele’s reasonable accommodation certainly offended many people. But none of these people were discriminated against by her reasonable accommodation. So she should have continued to be accommodated.

    As I’ve posted before, in South Africa Ladele’s reasonable accommodation is guaranteed under the same law that brought in same-sex civil partnerships and marriages. This right of conscience has been used in my own province of the Eastern Cape (see http://www.dispatch.co.za/news/article/1871).

    I find it ironic that a country that gives even more powerful gay rights than the UK (sexual orientation is a protected characteristic in our constitution) also guarantees freedom of conscience on same-sex marriage or partnerships. The UK should watch and learn!

  5. Hello Philip,  I had just posted above when I saw your post. I think Islington Council did mess up in their treatment of Ms Ladele and I hope when equal marriage is brought in the government makes sure this doesn’t arise again. But I still think registrars in this country (excluding parsons and priests in church buildings) should fulfil all the duties of the post. But it requires some process in advance….as I try to explain above.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.