Lord Justice Laws: the Anglican Settlement of the United Kingdom 'is deeply unprincipled'
From The Times:
Christianity deserves no protection in law above other faiths and to do so would be “irrational” , “divisive, capricious and arbitrary”, a senior judge said today, as he rejected a marriage guidance counsellor’s attempt to challenge his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to gay couples.
In the latest clash between the judiciary and Christian believers, Lord Justice Laws said that laws could not be used to protect one religion above another.
He also delivered a robust dismissal to the former Archbishop of Canterbury who had warned that a series of recent court rulings against Christians could lead to “civil unrest.”
To give one religion legal protection over any other, “however long its tradition, however rich its culture, is deeply unprincipled”, the judge said.
It would give legal force to a “subjective opinion” and would lead to a “theocracy”, which is of necessity autocratic.”
The judge went on to dismiss Lord Carey’s plea for the establishment of a specialist panel of judges to hear cases involving the practice of religious beliefs.
That would be “deeply inimical to the public interest,” he said.
Lord Carey had given a witness statement in support of the counsellor, Gary McFarlane, 48, from Bristol, a member of a Pentecostal church.
Mr McFarlane wanted permission to appeal against an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling that supported his sacking by Relate Avon in 2008
The father of two, who had worked for the national counselling service since 2003, had alleged unfair dismissal on the grounds of religious discrimination.
But rejecting Mr McFarlane’s application to appeal, Lord Justice Laws said that legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious grounds could not be justified.
He said it was “irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective”, adding: “it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary.”
“We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs.
“The precepts of any one religion - any belief system - cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other.”
“If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens, and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.
“The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments.
“The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.”
Lord Carey had urged a specially constituted panel of judges with a “proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues” to hear the case.
In his statement, the Anglican church leader had said that recent decisions involving Christians by the courts had used “dangerous” reasoning and this could lead to civil unrest.
Referring specifically to Lord Carey’s statement, the judge said it was right that he should address what the former Archbishop had said because of his seniority in the Church “and the extent to which others may agree with his views, and because of the misunderstanding of the law which his statement reveals”.
Lord Carey said: “The description of religious faith in relation to sexual ethics as ‘discriminatory’ is crude and illuminates a lack of sensitivity to religious belief.”
He added: “The comparison of a Christian, in effect, with a ’bigot’ (ie, a person with an irrational dislike to homosexuals) begs further questions. It is further evidence of a disparaging attitude to the Christian faith and its values.”
Lord Carey and other Christian leaders had expressed concerns after Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, and two other appeal judges, ruled last December that Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar, was breaking discrimination laws by refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.
In his witness statement Lord Carey said: “It is, of course, but a short step from the dismissal of a sincere Christian from employment to a religious bar to any employment by Christians.
“I believe that further judicial decisions are likely to end up at this point and this is why I believe it is necessary to intervene now.”
The fact that senior clerics of the Church of England and other religions felt compelled to intervene directly in judicial decisions was “illuminative of a future civil unrest”.
But the judge said that Lord Carey’s views were “misplaced”: judges had never likened Christians to bigots, or sought to equate condemnation by some Christians of homosexuality with homophobia.
He said it was possible that Lord Carey’s “mistaken suggestions” arose from a misunderstanding of the law on discrimination.
As to Lord Carey’s concerns over a lack of sensitivity by judges, Lord Justice Laws said this appeared to be an argument that the courts ought to be more sympathetic to the substance of Christian beliefs and be ready to uphold and defend them.
But he drew a distinction “ between the law’s protection of the right to hold and express a belief and the law’s protection of that belief’s substance or content.”
The Judeo-Christian tradition had exerted a “profound influence” on the judgment of lawmakers. But to confer on it preferential legal protection was “deeply unprincipled.”
It would mean laws being imposed “not to advance the general good on objective grounds but to give effect to the force of subjective opinion since faith, other than to the believer, was subjective.
“It may of course be true; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society.”
Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which backed the case, warned that the judgment would deny Christians a whole range of jobs because of their beliefs.
“The judge’s comments could lead in effect to a religious bar to employment, in which Christians could be prevented from being registrars, counsellors, teachers, social workers or work on adoption panels.”
“We never attempted to argue that we could impose a Christian law, which the judge seems to suggest.
“We are simply talking about the principle of marriage, between a man and a woman, which has undergirded society for hundreds of years.”