Philosopher warns of growing threat to religious freedom
Leading philosopher Roger Trigg, a Professor at Kellogg College, Oxford, has warned of an increasing tendency in UK courts to prioritise equality above religion, thereby undermining religious freedom.
Professor Trigg, who is the founding President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion,stated that: “Religious freedom and the right to manifest religious belief is a central part of every charter of human rights.”
Yet he believes that the courts are now “limiting human freedom itself”.
Professor Trigg is launching a new book, “Equality, Freedom and Religion”, which cites numerous cases where religious freedom has been denied by the courts.
These include the cases of Lillian Ladele, who refused to conduct civil partnerships in her position as an Islington registrar due to a conscientious objection, and was subsequently sacked; and Nadia Eweida, who was disciplined for visibly wearing a crucifix pendant by her employer British Airways.
Balance of Rights
There have been many concerns that, within judicial interpretations of equality law, a hierarchy of rights has developed, with some rights now being seen as more important than others. Recent court decisions have suggested that the freedom to manifest sexual orientation now trumps the freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs.
This has led to Christians losing their jobs after refusing to compromise their beliefs at work as well as Christians being stopped from being foster parents.
Yet Professor Trigg argues in his new book that the courts need to hold the different rights in balance, and that “reasonable accommodation” should be the aim of every judge.
Using the example of Lillian Ladele, he commented that: “It should have been easy to find a solution here, but the need to respect the right to equality trumped the freedom of religious convictions in this instance.”
Christian Concern has supported many individuals who have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere, including Shirley Chaplin, an NHS nurse who was told not to wear her cross at work; and Gary McFarlane, who was sacked because he mentioned that he may have a conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to homosexual men after the issue was discussed on a staff training day.
The cases of Lillian, Nadia, Gary and Shirley are all currently waiting to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.Any decision by the European Court on these cases will have huge consequences for the freedom of Christians in the UK and Europe to live by their beliefs in public.
Prime Minister David Cameron recently gave a speech in Oxford,on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, during which he proclaimed that Britain was a Christian nation and should continue to be informed by Christian moral values.
Yet, despite this, the Government has decided not to back the four Christians who have taken their cases to the European Court, but rather to argue that they were right to have been penalised.
And when asked about Eunice and Owen Johns, the Christian foster parents who were stopped from continuing to foster because of their Christian sexual ethics, the Prime Minister backed the decision of Derby Council and claimed that “Christians should be more tolerant”.
The decision not to back the four cases has been heavily criticised by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who stated: “I am very disappointed for the individuals concerned who have simply followed their conscience. Such is the result of a liberal establishment that has become deeply illiberal.”
Tory MP Gary Streeter is now leading a cross-party group of parliamentarians who are conducting an inquiry into discrimination against Christians. Christian Concern, along with other organisations, has been giving extensive evidence to the enquiry.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, commented:
“I have witnessed a real restriction of religious freedom in this country in the last few years. Increasing numbers of Christians have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere. Some Christians have been threatened with disciplinary action, suspended, and even sacked for refusing to act against their consciences. This has to stop, and I believe that it will.”