Should Christians be given the same rights as the disabled?
For years, the EHRC has determined that homosexual equality trumps freedom of religion: that is, freedom of religion should be denied to the Christian B&B owner who does not want two homosexuals sleeping together in their home; the Christian registrar who does not wish to ‘marry’ two men in a civil partnership; and the Christian counsellor who does not wish to advise two men in relationship matters.
But then something happened. A month ago Trevor Phillips declared: "Our business is defending the believer.” Which is nice, but the right to believe has never been in question: in the UK there is undoubtedly the freedom to believe and worship as one wishes. But he added: "The law we're here to implement recognises that a religious or belief identity is, for the majority of people in Britain, an essential element of being a fulfilled human being and plays an important part in our society." This naturally irritated the British Humanist Association.
But last week Trevor Phillips went further. The EHRC has intervened in four cases of clear discrimination against Christians, and are appealing with them in Strasbourg, arguing that ‘reasonable accommodation’ for religion or belief is needed.
Essentially, having hitherto sided with homosexuals in the hierarchy of human rights, the EHRC is now of the opinion that the way equality law is being interpreted by judges militates against the right to manifest religion or belief in the workplace; that Christians who disagree with gay equality legislation should have the freedom to follow their consciences.
This is something of a U-turn. And it doesn’t only concern homosexual equality, but the right to wear a cross in the workplace (public and private). Perhaps Mr Phillips is simply trying to be all things to all people. Yet if he is now championing freedom of religion, why is he not also defending Roman Catholic adoption agencies against closure?
Why may those charities not follow their conscience and continue to place adoptive children with heterosexual parents, in accordance with their understanding of Christian orthodoxy and the desire to adhere to Church tradition, not to mention the research which clearly establishes that children flourish best in a family with both a mother and father in a committed relationship?
Trevor Phillips is now of the opinion that the courts have ‘set the bar too high for someone to prove that they have been discriminated against because of their religion or belief; it is possible to accommodate expression of religion alongside the rights of people who are not religious and the needs of businesses’.
Yet ‘reasonable accommodation’ is going to be manifestly unreasonable for the gay and the humanist atheist. But it has worked well for the disabled for many years: work rotas and clothing regulations have been changed and other reasonable adjustments made to accommodate the needs of those who cannot see, hear or walk. Employers have a statutory obligation to accommodate the needs of those who cannot physically perform certain activities, so why can they not also be obliged to accommodate those who cannot spiritually conform? Legs that will not walk are no different from eyes that cannot see or ears that cannot hear. Trevor Phillips appears now to be of the view that these are no different from the conscience that will not countenance.
Are Christians about to be given the same rights as the disabled?