Grant Shapps defends religious liberty on ‘gay marriage’
Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): May we have a debate on freedom of speech? Mr Peter Tatchell — a gentleman for whom I have some admiration — has today attacked the Trafford Housing Trust for its despicable decision to downgrade the position and cut the salary of Mr Adrian Smith, a Christian, for posting private comments on his own private Facebook account on the subject of gay marriage. Should we be putting public money into an organisation that is, effectively, propagating state-sponsored intolerance?Further to the question posed by Stewart Jackson MP to the Leader of the House, Housing Minister Grant Shapps has robustly defended Adrian Smith, a Christian who works for the Trafford Housing Trust and who had simply remarked on his private Facebook account in February that plans to allow gay marriages in a church were ‘an equality too far’. As a result, Mr Smith was demoted from his £35k role as housing manager to being a £21k money support advisor.
Sir George Young: I am a firm believer in freedom of speech and freedom of worship. Of course people should obey the law of the country. I will draw this incident to the attention of the Minister for Housing and Local Government, to see whether there is any action to be taken either by him or the Housing Corporation.
Grant Shapps said that he agreed with civil rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who thought the punishment inappropriate. Mr Tatchell said: ‘The Trust was acting with good intentions in a bid to ensure equal opportunities, non-discrimination and inclusive service provision. Although its commitment to equality for lesbian and gay people is commendable, its response to Mr Smith’s remarks is excessive and disproportionate.’
He added: ‘In a democratic society, he has a right to express his point of view, even if it is misguided and wrong. Freedom of speech should only be limited or penalised in extreme circumstances, such as when a person incites violence against others. Mr Smith’s words did not cross this threshold.’
In his letter to Mr Stewart, the Housing Minister quoted Mr Tatchell’s reaction to the incident and said: ‘I agree with Mr Tatchell’s sentiments.’ Mr Shapps also said that the government ‘strongly supports freedom of speech within the law’ and in a handwritten note at the bottom, he congratulated Mr Stewart for bringing the matter to the attention of Parliament.
This is all very nice.
But it is by no means the first or even the most disproportionate punishment meted out to a Christian merely for exercising his or her conscience. One thinks of Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele, Gary McFarlane, Duke Amachree...
Surely the Minister’s bold and forthright intervention in this case has not come as a result of a nod from