Round 1: Religious conscience v Sexual orientation
The Bishop of Hereford, the Right Reverend Anthony Priddis, has therefore declined to employ John Reaney, and the letter of rejection is purported to state the reason being ‘because he was a practising homosexual’. Cranmer thinks this more than a little unlikely, since although bishops may occasionally lapse in areas of faith and doctrine, they are not generally known for their stupidity or crass insensitivity.
Mr Reaney is taking his case to an employment tribunal, and this is the first case of its kind. At the moment, appointments to the clergy are exempt from having to conform with anti-discrimination laws on the grounds of sexual orientation, but lay appointments and clerical posts are not included. But the Diocese of Hereford has said: 'We expect the same sexual standards of behaviour from our support ministers or lay ministers as we do of clergy.' And herein lies an interesting legal battle. Why should the church be free to reject a practising homosexual vicar, and not a homosexual youth worker? The vicar is responsible for the pastoral care and moral welfare of his flock, but the youth worker carries precisely that same responsibility, yet for minds and lives even more vulnerable.
The timing is excellent – just at the precise moment of conflict between the right to assert orthodox Christian beliefs and further equality laws being passed by Parliament to protect the rights of homosexual people. The gay equality organisation Stonewall is consequently railing against the Church of England for its ‘quite offensive 19th-century prejudice'.
Cranmer looks forward to the judgement of the tribunal with great interest, and is only annoyed that the case is not being brought by a homosexual youth worker against a mosque.