Equality Bill: European Commission v the Church of Jesus Christ
And these amendments are unequal, for the former is concerned with rectifying an absurd infringement and offence against the conscience: it amounts to state censorship and an enforced division between the private realm of spiritual belief and the public realm of political policy. If consenting adults wish to read the Bible, the Qur’an, the Gita or the Upinishads as they make their vows, that should be a matter for them. We do not have a tradition of laïcité in the country, and the fundamentalist secularisation of society amounts to the systematic elimination of all religion from public life. Conservatives should see such a violation of conscience and property rights as utterly abhorrent.
This is not simply a matter for the Church: although, as the established faith of the nation, with 26 bishops sitting in the Upper House, it is overwhelmingly so. Yet the Labour peer, Waheed Alli, who is a gay Muslim, is more vocal than most of the bishops. He has tabled the amendment to permit the introduction of religious texts and language to same-sex civil partnerships.
Whatever one may think about civil partnerships, this is a matter of religious liberty and Lord Alli’s amendment should be supported. No single group ‘owns’ the Bible, and it is not for the State to decree when it may or may not be used. If it may legitimately be banned from the registry office, why not from Parliament itself?
The other amendment, however, is quite a different matter.
Hitherto, religious organisations have been exempt from employment equality legislation, especially that concerning gender and sexuality for ministers of religion. Thus the Roman Catholic Church has been free to perpetuate an exclusively-male priesthood, and practising (or inclined) homosexuals may be quite legally barred from seminary training, ordination and Christian ministry. Yet this is now under threat, and so Conservative peer, Detta O’Cathain, has proposed an amendment to permit continuing discrimination on grounds of sexuality.
Let us not pretend that there is unity among the religions, their various denominations, or even between believers with these communities: there is not. And yet what we are witnessing is a concerted attempt by the most fundamentalist anti-Christian government in centuries to subject Christian orthodoxy to the anti-Christian laws of the State. If the Church may no longer refuse employment to someone who lives contrary to the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics, it is difficult to see how it may legally refuse to marry divorcees, bless homosexual unions or excommunicate those who rebel against its traditions, teaching and authority. We are moving towards the State preventing a Roman Catholic school from dismissing its head teacher after he has ‘come out’, civil-partnered and converted to Islam.
It is not possible to sustain a distinct religious ethos if the State requires uniformity.
Unless it is within a mosque or a Muslim school, of course. For in the hierarchy of rights, ethnic/religious minorities are higher in the pecking order than the white Anglo-Saxon Christian types, and Peter Tatchell is yet to unite with Ekklesia, the British Humanist Association and the Trades Union Congress to nail his theses to the Mosque of England.
But let us not forget the fount of this iniquity, for Her Majesty’s Government is dancing to the tune of the European Commission. And there is more than a little obfuscation and confusion as a result of the Government’s duplicity in trying to serve two masters.
The Guardian notes that Churches say the government has assured them the equality bill will preserve their ‘special status’: "(The Equality Bill) will not change the existing legal position regarding churches and employment," the leader of the House of Lords, Lady Royall, told peers recently.
But the Guardian ‘has learned’ (they are a bit slow: Cranmer reported on this last November) that the European Commission has threatened the British Government with legal action unless the grounds on which religious groups could discriminate were narrowed. Existing UK law is, they aver, ‘too broad’.
(Well, narrow is the path...)
The Guardian observes: ‘The text of the document, which has not been made public until now, has led to criticisms that the government has told parliament and religious organisations that the law will remain the same, while assuring the EU the law would be strengthened.”
Cranmer is not sure why this should come as a surprise: it is precisely the same duplicitous strategy which has been deployed on all matters relating to the EEC/EC/EU since 1973. You tell Parliament one thing while negotiating another in Brussels; you reassure the public of their sovereignty while selling their birthright and doing precisely the opposite. And then, a decade later, it becomes apparent to all what has occurred, but it is too late to do anything about it, and, where there is conflict between the two jurisdictions, national law is subsumed to EU law.
The bishops of Winchester, Exeter and Chester have written: ‘The government have said that they share our view – that the current limited exemptions for organised religions are balanced and should not be further restricted. Yet they are proposing to modify them.’
Well, Your Graces, Your Eminences and Your Holiness, the wheel has come full circle.
The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have been complicit in the whole process of European integration since its inception: they have been content to be the ‘Soul for Europe’; willing accomplices and dogmatic advocates of political union. They have nurtured, nourished and encouraged it. They have affirmed, praised and exalted it.
Why, one may ask, have they helped to create the beast which is now intent on destroying the very foundations of their liberties?
If it profits a man nothing to give his soul even for the whole world, why has the Church abdicated its spiritual authority for a façade of privilege and 30 euros?