April 12, 2010
Discrimination against Christians in ... Britain?
Bishops push back on recent court rulings against faith in the workplace.
British newspapers are reporting "an unprecedented showdown" between the Church of England and the nation's second-highest court over whether U.K. Christians are discriminated against in the workplace for their beliefs regarding homosexuality, among other issues.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and other bishops have demanded that certain Court of Appeals judges stand down from future religious discrimination cases because their recent rulings demonstrate a lack of understanding of Christian beliefs. The Anglican leaders want such appeals to be judged instead by a panel of judges with expertise on religious issues.
The next hearing will be this Thursday, when Christian relationship counselor Gary McFarlane will appeal his firing for refusing sex therapy to homosexual couples. Last week, Christian nurse Shirley Chaplin lost her appeal to wear a crucifix around her neck in hospital wards.
The Court of Appeals decided last December that under existing equality laws, the rights of homosexuals take precedence over the rights of Christians to express their faith. The ruling came during the failed appeal of Christian registrar Lillian Ladele over her firing for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.
In a March 28 letter, Lord Carey and five current and former Anglican bishops said that "the religious rights of the Christian community are being treated with disrespect." Current Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams countered soon after, saying that "we need to keep our own fears in perspective" compared to the persecution experienced by Christians in other nations. The BBC examined the issue Easter Sunday in a special report.
It hasn't been all bad news for U.K. Christians lately. Church leaders preserved exemptions for religious groups to discriminate when hiring; new regulations will allow Christian pharmacists to refrain from dispensing medicine against their conscience; and a Catholic adoption agency will be allowed to exclude gay couples from adoptions, though most of its peers were forced to close.
But with discrimination claims up nearly 25 percent and 60 percent of surveyed General Synod members agreeing there is discrimination against Christians, Thursday's ruling could generate some headlines indeed.