Catholic Union: Equalities Commission must protect religious liberty

The chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, Mr James Bogle, has written to Mr  Trevor Phillips OBE,  head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asking the Commission to defend religious liberty and protect the human rights and equality of religious minorities.

Commending their decision to withdraw an appeal in the Bull case, which would have sought yet more monetary compensation from the couple who were successfully sued for refusing a  room to an unmarried male couple, the Catholic Union has asked that similar vigilance be  exercised on behalf of religious minorities, whose rights are meant to be protected by Article  9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In the letter, Mr Bogle, wrote: “Religious freedom does not simply mean the right to attend religious services and nothing more but must also involve the right not to be coerced in matters of religion and related issues of conscience.”

“The Declaration of Religious Liberty of the Second Vatican Council identifies the right not to be coerced in matters of religion and calls it a right founded in the very nature of the human person.”

“It is surely inconsistent for any who pride themselves in cherishing tolerance and equality, to practice intolerance and inequality when it comes to religious minorities. To confine religious liberty largely to the freedom to attend religious services is to accord not very much more than was accorded religious minorities under some highly oppressive and intolerant regimes. Tolerance means tolerating those with whom one might disagree, not just those with whom one agrees. Too many anti-religious bodies seem unwilling or unable to accept this simple truth.”

“Religious liberty is not, of course, unlimited, and must be subject to just and due limits, but some recent decisions and provisions of public bodies are tending toward imposing unjust and unacceptable limits on the personal freedoms of religious minorities, particularly Christians.”

"The contribution of Christianity to British society has been huge and lastingly beneficial. Schools, hospitals, universities, art, literature and science and even the very foundations of our laws, constitution and parliamentary democracy, have their origins at least as much in Christianity as in any other belief-system and Christians contribute hugely to society as citizens. It is intolerant, unequal and oppressive to discriminate against them and the Commission should be vigilant to employ tax-payers’ money to try to prevent such discrimination, intolerance and oppression.”

“It is indicative of a trend that mistakes are being made which threaten to discriminate further against religious minorities.”
“However, I am pleased that the Commission’s legal director has now agreed that there was an error of judgement, in attempting to pursue an appeal, and I welcome his courage in admitting as much.”

“We are also pleased that the Commission has apologised for their remark, during the recent Johns’ case about Christian fostering, which implied that Christian moral values are like an ‘infection’ that could harm children. This was a disgracefully intolerant and discriminatory remark indicative of an unequal, and, indeed, even offensive, attitude toward Christians. It would have been bad enough for anyone to make such a remark but for a body set up to protect human rights and equality to make it in legal submissions is, surely, wholly reprehensible.”

“We feel that the Commission has some re-thinking to do following these two serious mistakes in the very area upon which it is charged with responsibility and the right to spend taxpayer’s money.”

Mr Bogle concluded: “The Catholic Union opposes unfair discrimination against minorities, whether on the ground of sexual orientation or religion, but it is disturbing that, under a system where there is meant to be equality of rights, there appears to be a growing trend toward treating some rights, such as sexual rights, as greater and more important than others, such as the right to religious freedom.”

“That is already a form of discrimination and inequality in itself and is self-contradictory and self-defeating. How can a human rights agency promote equality by doing so unequally or prevent discrimination by doing so in a discriminatory manner? It’s a nonsense.”

Following the Johns’ case, in which a Christian couple who had previously fostered 15 different children, were prevented from further fostering children because their Christian morality does not approve sex outside marriage, the EHRC published an apology saying: “Unfortunately a mistake within our legal submission led to an inference that we did not intend and which was misconstrued as suggesting that the Commission equates Christian moral views with an infection.”

“This oversight was caused by a drafting error in our submissions to the court. This should have been picked up in our internal clearance process for the legal documentation and does not represent the position of the Commission in any way.”

“This is one mistake too many”, said Mr Bogle, “And I think the Commission need to take stock and look again at their procedures to ensure that this kind of gross error and insult does not occur again. If it does not then its standing may well decline and its ability to protect human rights may be adversely affected.”

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