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Christian concern for our nation - Opinion poll results show widespread opposition to sors; annulment of sors sought in commons and lords

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5th December 2006

Summary of new information


  1. An independent Opinion Poll commissioned by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship has shown that a sizeable majority of the population are opposed to the method and content of the Government’s proposals regarding the SORs. The Press Release and full poll results are included in the body of this e-mail (below).

  2. Meanwhile, confirmation has been received that motions to annul the Northern Ireland SORs have been laid in both the House of Common and the House of Lords. Though this is excellent news, unfortunately, it is only if the Government choose to give time to these motions to annul that they will be granted the time in Parliament to be debated or voted on at all. Please get your MP and any local Peers to support these motions (see template letter to MPs, below).

  3. In another move by the Government which may link to the fast-tracking of the SORs, Ruth Kelly has just appointed the chief executive of the gay lobbying group Stonewall, as one of the ‘Equality Commissioners’ for the new ‘Commission for Equality and Human Rights’ (see link below). This is the body with far reaching powers which will ensure the SORs are fully implemented – it even has power to fund court cases to ensure compliance with the Regulations. No representative of any faith group has been appointed to the Commission.

  4. The e-mail address supplied for Ruth Kelly in the last e-mail update we sent has since become obsolete. The correct address is


SO FAR THE FAITHFUL AND TIRELESS PRAYER AND ACTION OF THOUSANDS OF CHRISTIANS HAS HAD A SUBSTANTIAL IMPACT ON THE SORs. MPs HAVE FOUND IT IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE THEIR POSTBAGS FULL OF LETTERS OF CONCERN ON THIS ISSUE, AND THE MEDIA HAVE CONSEQUENTLY LATCHED ONTO THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE REGULATIONS. HOWEVER, IT IS ONLY IF THIS PRAYER AND PRESSURE IS MAINTAINED THAT THERE WILL BE ANY CHANGE IN THE SUBSTANCE OF THE SORs TO PROTECT THE FREEDOM TO OBEY THE BIBLE. Please see below for full practical details on what can be done.

Links

Further Details


The motions to annul the Sexual Orientation Regulations

In the House of Commons the procedure to annul the Northern Ireland Regulation is a ‘prayer of annulment’ put forward by way of an Early Day Motion (EDM) written in a specified format. Such an EDM to annul the SORs was put down on the 28th November 2006 and was entitled:

‘SEXUAL ORIENTATION DISCRIMINATION (S.R. (N.I.) 2006 No.439)’

The EDM Number is 317. The EDM was put forward by MPs Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, Jeffrey Donaldson, Iris Robinson and Bob Spink. The full text of the EDM is:

‘That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, prating that the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 (S.R. (N.I.) 2006 No.439), dated 8th November 2006, a copy of which was laid before this House on the 24th November, be annulled”.

Please seek the support of your MPs for this EDM. We include a template letter to MPs (below) explaining briefly some of the arguments against the Northern Ireland SORs, and the need for support for the EDM. Please adapt this as you feel appropriate.

It is important to note that it is only by way of political pressure that the Government will agree to grant time in Parliament to have a debate and possibly a vote on the proposed annulment – the Government are well within their procedural rights to simply ignore the annulment.


In the House of Lords, Lord Morrow has placed the following prayer for annulment:

‘Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 Lord Morrow to move that a Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Regulations, laid before the House on 24 November, be annulled.’

(see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldordpap.htm#omd)



Again, it is up to the Government business managers whether they allow time for a debate and vote on this matter. The more pressure that is created, the more likely it is that time will be allowed.



Template Letter



Dear MP

Re: The Northern Ireland Sexual Orientation (SORs) regulations

(they can be found at http://www.opsi.gov.uk/sr/sr2006/20060439.htm. Their official title is “Statutory Rule 2006 No. 439 ‘The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006’).


These Regulations are due to come into force in Northern Ireland on the 1st January 2007 and expected to follow in the rest of Great Britain as a separate statutory instrument during April 2007.

There are many areas of concern regarding the Northern Ireland SORs. Firstly, in Northern Ireland the Regulations were subject to an 8 week rather than the recommended 12 week consultation period (from the 29 July to the 25 September – this includes of course the summer months where many people are away). Despite this, there was a large response to the consultation question on religion: 269 out of 287 respondents saying that exemptions should not be restricted to primarily doctrinal matters. This was by far the clearest answer (with the biggest majority) to any of the consultation questions). However, this response was ignored.


In addition, a provision was introduced to the Northern Ireland SORs making harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation illegal, despite the Government’s consultation document stating:

“During the passage of the Equality Act 2006, members of the House of Lords argued strongly that, while the concept [of harassment] sat more easily in the employment sphere, it was extremely difficult to define what constitutes violation of dignity in terms of goods or service provision […] On the basis of the complex arguments put forward we are minded to accept that it is not appropriate to legislate for harassment within these Regulations. We feel that the future Single Equality Bill will provide a more appropriate vehicle to consider harassment in terms of goods, facilities and services, and allow more time to deal with the complex arguments that have been put forward” [emphasis added]

This provision of harassment was introduced at the request of only 9 unsolicited general responses to the consultation. Harassment is a subjective matter depending on the perception of the person bringing the claim, and is therefore highly concerning. A homosexual would have a claim against a Christian individual or church if that person felt that something said or done by the Christian individual or church ‘violated their dignity’ or created a ‘hostile, humiliating or offensive environment’. Myriad scenarios could make out this dangerously broad legal test: simply explaining biblical references to homosexuality in church could be taken to constitute this.

The mere threat of legal proceedings against religious groups could have a very chilling effect on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.


Another concern relating to the final Northern Ireland Regulations is that they were published before any response and findings from the consultation were produced by the Government. This is contrary to the Parliamentary guidance on conducting consultations.

It is important to note that even though there are some exemptions for churches in Regulation 16 of the Northern Ireland SORs, churches are not exempt from the harassment law.


It is the hallmark of a democratic society that people are free to live out their religious beliefs without state interference. It is an inherent part of our identity and life style for Christians and those of other faiths. It seems likely the proposals are contrary to article 9 of the European Convention on Human rights on freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The Northern Ireland Regulations will also result in the faith community and voluntary organisations who receive any public funding having real difficulties in continuing to provide their services. If the Government make it illegal for such organisations to refuse to promote or assist homosexual practice, it will force thousands of service providers to stop providing those services – this will be to the detriment of the whole of society. The Roman Catholic Church has already said the Regulations will result in the closing of their adoption and fostering agencies if they are forced to place children with same sex couples.


I would urge you to support the prayer for annulment of these Regulations which has been laid in the Commons in order that the Regulations can in the meantime be amended to deal with the concerns set out in this letter. Please also urge all other MPs, the Prime Minister and leaders of all parties to grant time for a full, open debate and vote on the annulment motion, to address these important issues.

The Early Day Motion (EDM) (Number 317) which has been put down on the 28th November to annul the Regulations, is under the title

SEXUAL ORIENTATION DISCRIMINATION (S.R. (N.I.) 2006 No.439)’


The full text of the EDM is:


That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 (S.R. (N.I.) 2006 No.439), dated 8th November 2006, a copy of which was laid before this House on the 24th November, be annulled”.


PLEASE NOTE THAT THE NORTHERN IRELAND REGULATIONS ARE SET TO COME INTO FORCE ON THE 1ST JANUARY, SO SUPPORT FOR THE EDM MUST BE IMMEDIATE.

If you would like to discuss this matter further with me, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,









PRESS RELEASE


New poll results show Government’s proposed Sexual Orientation laws are out of step with public opinion

In the wake of recent press coverage (see The Telegraph (21st Nov), the Daily Mail (21st Nov)) criticising the Government’s back-door introduction of far reaching laws on sexual orientation, a new opinion poll commissioned by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship reveals the Government’s latest legislative proposals are out of step with public opinion.

In an independent poll of 1000 adults in Britain, more than 7 in 10 agreed with the statement that “Any law requiring people to promote homosexual practice should be applied selectively so as to ensure that people with strong religious beliefs are not forced to act against their conscience”. This contrasts starkly with the Government’s use of their direct rule powers in Northern Ireland to fast-track laws making it illegal to discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation (see LCF Press release 17/11/06).

The Government have ignored concerns voiced by many faith groups in Northern Ireland, known for the strongly held religious beliefs of its inhabitants, and applied the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) to all commercial and even voluntary sector service providers, with no exception on the grounds of individual conscience for religious believers. The result is that it will force many who hold religious beliefs out of their jobs and out of the voluntary services which they provide.


The Northern Ireland SORs, published by the Government on the 8th November and due to be in force by 1st January, will make it illegal for a printing shop run by a strong Catholic family to turn away a homosexual who demands they print fliers promoting gay sex. Alarm is growing at the prospect of the standard £500-£5000 tariff for a one-off offence, rising to £5000-£15,000 if the unlawful incident occurs on two or more occasions.


The poll also revealed that a large majority (66% compared to 28%) agreed that: “The law should not discriminate against religious groups in order to promote gay rights”. With concerns mounting that the lack of protection for freedom of conscience for Christians, Jews and Muslims could breach the European Convention on Human Rights, Thomas Cordrey from the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship commented “The proposed Sexual Orientation Regulations display a startling contradiction. They are introduced under the Equality Act and yet with the same sweep of the brush that creates a right to non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, they discriminate heavily against Christians by forcing them to promote and assist homosexual practice contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Government believes the right to equality is somehow weaker for someone who holds a religious belief”.

A firm majority of the 1000 people questioned also agreed that “The Government should do more to protect traditional family and marriage values and less to promote gay and lesbian lifestyle” and that “The Government should not legislate to promote one moral view over another”. These results further indicating that the Government’s time and effort spent on the SORs is not supported by the majority of the population. Mr Cordrey added “It is clear that what the populace really want from their Government are genuine efforts and initiatives to support the stability of families and marriage for the upbringing and education of children. This does not mean discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation, it means focusing time and effort on promoting and encouraging what has proven over many centuries to be the best environment for families and a healthy society to grow – marriage between a man and a woman.”


Thomas Cordrey

Public Policy Analyst, the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship

e-mail:

alternatively,


Andrea Williams,

Public Policy Analyst, the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship

e-mail: phone: 07712591164


OPINION POLL RESULTS IN FULL

"The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship commissioned CommunicateResearch to conduct a survey of 1000 adults from 15-16 November 2006. Data was weighted to be representative of all GB adults. CommunicateResearch is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules".

Question: “Any law requiring people to promote homosexual practice should be applied selectively so as to ensure that people with strong religious beliefs are not forced to act against their conscience”.

Results: Agree 72% Disagree 19 %


Question: “The law should not discriminate against religious groups in order to promote gay rights”.

Results: Agree 66% Disagree 28 %

Question: “The Government should do more to protect traditional family and marriage values and less to promote gay and lesbian lifestyle”.

Results: Agree 57% Disagree 38%

Question: “The Government should not legislate to promote one moral view over another”.

Results: Agree 56% Disagree 38%

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