Don’t put out the bunting…


I was taken aback by reaction to yesterday’s news from the European Courts in which a landmark case ruled that British Airways were wrong in chastising Nadia Eweida, an employee, for wearing a cross whilst at work. This news is widely and loudly being heralded as a triumph for religious liberty -proof that Christians are wide of the mark when claiming to suffer discrimination.

But hang on! This was not a stand alone case and a profoundly different picture emerges when we consider it alongside the other three cases, all of which failed, which were heard at the same time.  The case of nurse Shirley Chaplain, banned from wearing a cross on a chain as a nurse. The case of marriage guidance counsellor Gary McFarlane who objects to offering sex therapy to homosexuals. And the case of registrar, Lillian Ladele, who refused to perform same sex ceremonies having ensured others would cover in her absence.

Four cases heard and only one upheld is hardly victory. An outlook which only becomes gloomier when we consider the deeper implications of what transpired. Cases concerning the wearing of jewellery were sympathetically heard. (Shirley Chaplain was told a chain constitutes a health hazard for a nurse, which seems fair, and was advised to wear a small lapel badge instead) But all the cases which touch on the living out of faith within the workplace, as opposed to merely advertising your membership, fell foul of law.

Understand the implications. As an orthodox Christian you may just about get away with wearing a badge honouring your faith in the workplace but the moment you act on that faith then expect trouble. Which given the direction and practice of modern society is chilling news indeed. Catholic teachers will be expected to teach a curriculum that subverts Catholicism and upholds secular humanism. Catholic midwives may struggle to find employment if they refuse to abort babies or hand out artificial contraception or accept the ‘Liverpool pathway’. Catholic teaching on human sexuality will need to be ignored if any wish to work as registrars or counsellors or social workers. We are gradually being removed from public office by matter of conscience.

So please put away that bunting. This is a challenging situation for the Church given that our faith is manifestly not an insignificant badge merely pointing to what we do at home, to be left dormant on our lapels when we enter the public square. No, our faith is an active thing, a deep part of who we are and it informs what we can and cannot do. It forms our opinions, our character and our practice and, if lived out properly, we cannot remove if even if we wanted to, which we don’t.

This touches on the real issue lurking beneath the legislation and modern bullying of Christians. The huberis of the Western elite. A predominantly secularist body, subservient to a relativistic humanist creed, who seem hellbent on building a brave new world in their image. This group, who hold a monopoly on power today, have become so utterly self assured, so completely convinced of their intellectual superiority, that they commit a terrible sin of pride in forgetting that their world view (on religion or anything else) is only that, a view and not truth itself.

Convinced of their grand status then as arbiters of truth- and not only of truth but enlightenment, liberal decency, tolerance and justice too (despite having founded Western values we Christians apparently know nothing)-  the Western elite are now moving to the next logical step in this post modern crusade. The imposition of their will on us the little people. Being decent sorts (they are enlightened libertarians after all) they will just allow us to break ranks in our private lives and in the home- but in the public square secularist principles now rule. We witness the humanist belief system overthrowing the old Christian order. A secular will that is being routinely enforced on us and presented as if it were the only civilised option for society.

The arrogance with which they hold their view makes it hard for debate to flourish and clears the ground for potential tyranny. What do we mean when we say we disagree? Given that they are so right then we must be backward or bigoted or worse! And when we witness the Church being secularised from within as well as without the situation is worsened. The Gospel voice gets lost amidst myriad confused opinions stemming from our own ranks. From a Christian populace living out a half remembered faith yet formed within this firmly secular culture. Strange hybrids who lurch between the competing truths of the Christian past and secular present.

So understand this legislation is not good news but merely more of the same from Europe. The days of easy Christian witness are over. It is time for us to stand firm in the faith and be prepared to be misunderstood and misrepresented. But hang in there because a battle is raging over our identity and culture and future. And if you doubt how bad that is consider how much more greed and corruption we are seeing in the modern secular world than was found in the Christian culture of yesteryear. Consider how selfishness abounds and economies are failing.

But despite the gloom do not lose hope. This is far from the first regime to have sought our destruction. And, more often than not, it is we who survive to pick up the pieces when it fails. And who can deny that it is failing when we look to the inequality and crisis of our day. Like the pigs in Animal Farm the new regime may preach ‘equality’ but it seems some animals are more equal than others as the gap between rich and poor is widening and the fabric of society is unravelling. Pray today for true tolerance and liberty and understanding. And pray for those who are so utterly convinced of their own world view that they are blind to their own failings and the needs and gifts of others. It seems a better response to me than cheering because we can all now wear jewellery.

18 thoughts on “Don’t put out the bunting…”

  1. While I do not demur from your basic analysis that officialdom as well as our general is becoming progressively less tolerant and respectful of of Christianity, it is important to look more closely at the specifics of the cases you site.

    The marriage guidance counsellor and the registrar were in fact refusing to carry out the requirements of their respective jobs. While it may have been possible to transfer those responsibilities to others as the need arose and without any sign of overt discrimination, management would surely be justified to worry about setting a precedent where an employee would be allowed to pick and choose between what work he or she would be prepared to do. This is not being anti-Christian. How would you fare as a priest if you were to say that, for family reasons, you would only conduct services or visit the sick between 10.00am and 5.00pm?

    The cases cover public services which are secular in nature, and it is misguided to assume that anything secular is automatically anti-Christian.

    1. I also do not demur from the view that the powers-that-be are becoming more anti-Christian, but could someone please explain the following comparisons?

      Is there any difference between a Catholic doctor being required to perform an abortion, and a Jehovah’s Witness doctor being required to administer a blood transfusion (or, in either case, to give unbiased advice to patients on each matter)?

      Equally, what is the difference between a marriage guidance counsellor refusing to advise homosexuals, and a doctor with strong views on smoking and drinking refusing to treat smokers with lung cancer, or alcoholics with cirrhosis of the liver?

  2. Why this is a case of conscience and not religious freedom

    Article 9

    (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion [Note: three distinct concepts]; this right includes…to manifest…in practice and observance.
    (2) Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations… [Note: the concept of ‘conscience’ is missing in Article 9(2)]…

    One of the third party interveners, the European Centre for Law and Justice, distinguished between the different obligations of ‘religion’ and ‘conscience’. Essentially religion might obligate you to wear a cross, attend a synagogue on a Saturday or church on a Sunday – all these actions may be curtailed by Article 9(2).

    As the dissenting judges point out once a serious and genuine case of conscientious objection is established, the State is obliged to respect the individual’s conscience.

    In this case the majority, and the British government, accepted that Ladele had established a serious and genuine conscientious objection. What the majority then did was to submerge the established conscientious objection into a State’s discretion (as to whether or not it should respect or disrespect that conscientious objection) – unjustifiably – and thereby, like Pontius Pilate, wash their hands. As the dissenting judges point out, it does not matter whether a State has a wide or narrow margin of discretion – once a serious and genuine conscientious objection has been established – a State is obliged to protect it (if it will not – then human rights mean nothing).

    Protecting conscience was put into the European Convention of Human Rights (after the horrors of Auschwitz): ‘[T]o avoid that obeying one’s conscience must still require payment in heroism that the law now guarantees freedom of conscience’.

    The secularists, humanists and socialists have reversed the gains in human rights law achieved since the construction and destruction of the gas chambers: that is their unique contribution to post-democratic Britain and Europe.

  3. Yes, the dissenting opinion, in relation to Ladele, of Vucinic and de Gaetano is well worth a read, if only for its forthrightness – ‘back-stabbing by her colleagues and the blinkered political correctness of the Borough of Islington (which clearly favoured “gay rights” over fundamental human rights)’ – and also for its toast quotation from Blessed John Henry Newman about conscience and the Pope. More seriously, as the minority judgment underscores, the majority verdict in this particular applicant’s case represents a triumph for bullying illiberalism under a facade of tolerance and dignity, resulting in the applicant being hounded out of her job (taken on before civil partnerships were even invented) — something which, as the dissenting judges say, “cannot be deemed necessary in a democratic society.”

  4. The judgement handed down looked pretty sensible to me.

    We can carry on living out our faith as we each see fit, but we might not be funded by the state when we choose to do so… We retain complete liberty to order our own lives as we like – just not always at the expense of others; not on the public purse, particularly when our rights bump into the rights of others. Seems ok.

    The persecution narrative is a bit tough to chew.

    On the other hand – I completely agree with you, Ed, that we should not be blind to the needs and gifts of others. We all have much to learn from the other, but we – none of us! – seem very good at listening. :-/

    1. So how come even private businesses (e.g. B&Bs) are being told what they must do and how they must run their affairs? The entire assumption between the assault on the Bulls and the Wilkinsons is essentially communistic, i.e. that the state effectively owns all economic activity in the country to the extent of micromanaging the manner in which it’s conducted.

      Et omnia pro maiorem sodomiae gloriam!!!

      1. Indeed. And it is fascinating that one Mr Gorbachev, who saw what was evil in communism and tried to soften it in Russia, has reflected with incredulity that the EU seems intent on doing it all again…

  5. Employers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t: they have to take account of all the ‘protected characteristics’ in the Equality Act and balance the rights of employees, clients, customers, service users etc. From my reading of the judgment, it is clear that in each case, the employer tried to reach a compromise in the face of competing interests – and with the expectation that whatever action each one took, they were probably facing tribunal claims from one quarter or another. It seemed to me that the Christians, particularly the nurse, behaved unreasonably in their refusal to compromise. Employers have a tough time with all the employment and equalities legislation that has mushroomed since 1997. Christians would do well to meet the compromising employer half-way and thank God they have a job in these hard times.

    1. It seems Gill that you have rather missed the subtler point of my post which was examining the shift in philosophical outlook within society and its impact and challenge for us as Christians.

  6. Mr King

    The questions you ask are difficult to answer from a European human rights law perspective.

    Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights is in my opinion far weaker than protecting freedom of thought, religion and conscience, than American law.

    American law tends to tell the government what it can’t do; European law tends to tell the citizen what he can’t do.

    Article 9 primarily protects the forum internum (sphere of personal beliefs) – which does not assist a public faith like Christianity.

    In this case that Fr Tomlinson speaks about, what some men do between two sheets has seared with a hot iron the consience, in law, of millions of men and women.

    When homosexual ‘marriage’ is introduced, thousands of parents, teachers and children will be faced with a choice: obey God and conscience or unatural law.

  7. I take your point Fr Ed but if we have our way, we discriminate against another protected group. Blame Hattie Harman! Seriously though, I don’t want to see gay relationships criminalised again or abortion never under any circumstances or ‘no blacks need apply’. Society is better for being more tolerant and it was never going to happen without some legal underpinning. Someone is always going to lose out – but better a scratch than a deep wound.

    1. Gill yours always seems to be the voice of reason. Thank God we do live in a more tolerant society.

      This evening I have read with interest that there is an initiative to bring Liverpool’s ecumenical story to Italy.

      This project is an initiative of Ferrini Institute in the Archdiocese of Modena Nonantula, Northern Italy. The Ferrini community, having been inspired by the Liverpool story, believes that ‘this essential ecumenical evidence must be brought to an Italian audience’.

      Four books are to be translated: Living With Dying (Grace Sheppard, DLT 2010), Steps Along Hope Street (David Sheppard, Hodder 2002), Better Together and With Hope in Our Hearts (David Sheppard & Derek Worlock, Hodder 1986 and 1994).

      The plan: by releasing Grace Sheppard’s life-affirming book first, the publishers aim to introduce the three characters of David, Derek and Grace in an editorial manner to sensitise an Italian readership unfamiliar with English Anglican and Catholic ecumenism. Following this, David Sheppard’s memoir and the two books he co-authored with Derek Worlock will be published, providing their own story about their partnership. Altogether, these four books will provide a picture of the Liverpool phenomenon.

  8. Fr Tomlinson

    It has been suggested, ever so politely above, that conscience should not be supported by the public purse.

    In other words, expel conscience from the public square.

    The Court rejected that view.

    It was aware that that had been tried ‘by the Nazi firing squad.’

    1. With respect, you’ve made a leap here from “not on the public purse, particularly when our rights bump into the rights of others” to “expel conscience from the public square”. The two notions are certainly not the same thing “in other words”, nor does the first necessarily lead to the second.

      The right of people to express their views in the public square is – as you rightly say – a clear convention right (though differently phrased). I would agree with you that we should fear any move that seeks to suppress our ability to speak our minds in accordance with conscience.

      When different persons’ different rights bump into one another, though, that has to be regulated by the state – with great care. Which is what we have seen happen here, through the courts.

      1. What saddens me is the lack of tolerance in our society. The registrar in Islington was part of a large staff where other registrars could cover these services. The RC adoption agencies were not the only agencies so that gay couples were not being prevented from adopting. It seems that these laws are not really about gay rights but about forcing Christians to change their beliefs.

        1. Yes – it does seem odd to me that we’re not better at finding an accommodation in the round that would acknowledge that these individual cases are not in some sort of social vacuum.

          I suppose the difficult bit comes when any of us want to refuse a service to a particular section of society (but extend it to anybody else) on grounds of conscience or religious belief. The state needs to have a role there in deciding acceptable and unacceptable circumstances. In some cases, it’s saying it’s ok and in others, not.

          Finding where to draw the line between the two is objectively difficult, which is obvious from the fact that what on the surface seem straightforward cases have ended up in our Supreme Court and the ECHR…

  9. Fr Tomlinson

    It has been said:

    ‘When different persons’ different rights bump into one another, though, that has to be regulated by the state – with great care. Which is what we have seen happen here, through the courts.’

    It is precisely the lack of ‘great care’ by the courts that has led today to a situation where employers now have the legal authority to interrogate Christian job applicants as to their views on marriage – and this now presents the possibility of Christians (and conscience) being excluded from the public square.

    The courts (including the majority in the European Court on Human Rights) treated Ms Ladele’s case under Article 9 as one of freedom of religious belief (see under head No.9 of the judgment) when it is in fact one of freedom of conscience – the two are distinct concepts under Article 9 (as has been pointed out above).

    1. It would be impossible to protect everyone’s freedom of conscience. It is difficult enough to decide whether, for example wearing a crucifix or refusing to wear leather safety shoes are ‘deeply held beliefs’ in each individual case – just imagine trying to make judgments about an individual’s conscience. The ECtHR judge’s got it right by balancing one set of rights against another.
      Would the Christian employer who respects each and every matter of conscience raised by his Christian workers respect to the same degree those of the Vegan who refuses to wear his workclothes or work in particular environments because they contain animal based materials? You might think that is a daft comparison – but you catch my drift. Christians cannot impose their consciences on the reasonable employer.

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