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Deputy Registrar Warns House of Lords that Coroners and Justice Bill would Violate Human Rights of Christians in Public Life

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Issued on behalf of the Christian Legal Centre

Press Release

For Immediate Release

6th March 2009

Deputy Registrar Warns House of Lords that Coroners and Justice Bill would Violate Human Rights of Christians in Public Life

A DEPUTY Registrar in London has written to every member of the House of Lords asking them to oppose Clause 61 of the Coroners and Justice Bill which, she claims, would have “devastating effects on freedom of expression for citizens like me.  The United Kingdom purports to protect freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, but this is not the case, as I have found out recently to my cost.” 

Since 1991, Theresa Davies, 59, has been working for Islington Borough Council, rising to the responsible position of registering Births, Deaths and Marriages. However, in her letter, to be received by Peers on Monday 22 June, she will tell them that the way she has been  treated by her employers because of her Christian faith should sound ‘warning bells’ to Lords, and would become ‘typical’ if the Coroners and Justice Bill, as it stands, passes through Parliament in the next few weeks.

Until recently, Ms Davies has served as a deputy registrar, having received various promotions. She has maintained a spotless employment record.  However, after the legal appeal against the decision to uphold the religious rights of fellow Registrar Lillian Ladele on conducting Civil Partnership Ceremonies (CPCs) was upheld,  a lesbian member of staff complained that Ms Davies was not doing CPCs. As a result she was told by the Council to perform CPCs as well as Marriages, or be taken off her rota.  However, Ms Davies believes it wrong that someone should be made to act in a manner contrary to their conscience.  She told her employers she did not want to participate in CPCs which she said “clearly violated mandated biblical principles”.  

Ms Davies first raised concerns about her involvement in CPCs with her employer back in 2006. From then on, she says, the Council exerted pressure to force her to conduct CPCs which led her to taking four months off work for stress and high blood pressure. On October 9, 2006, she was told to return to work on reception duties or be dismissed -  something she did as she says had no other choice. Her union, the GMB Union has refused to represent her.

In her letter to Peers, she says: “In a civil society, it should be axiomatic that all rights should be respected.  There is no reason why the interests of all parties could not be accommodated; it would be perfectly possible to roster my working practices (many of my colleagues indicated a willingness to accommodate my situation) so that I only worked on civil marriages.  The local authority responded by saying I either engage in the practices violating my conscience, or be relegated to an entry-level position of receptionist.  The reality is a militant lobby, hostile to Judeo-Christian values.  The law does not require that I should be punished for my Christian faith, but that is the position of Islington Borough Council.”

Ms Davies, dropped from her post as deputy registrar to a position of receptionist, has sought the support of the Christian Legal Centre and leading Human Rights barrister, Paul Diamond and is to take legal action against the Council. Statistics show that only eight per cent of registrations at Islington Council are Civil Partnership Ceremonies, and Ms Davies argues that the Council could easily rota Registrars to take account of conscience issues. 

Ms Davies believes Clause 61 of the Coroners and Justice Bill will effectively make cases like hers the ‘norm’.  She tells Peers: “I believe one of the most important functions of government is to protect a citizen’s freedom of expression and the free exercise of religious conscience.  When this organ of local government instead uses its power in ways that impinge on such vital freedoms, others, like myself, will self-censure out of fear of governmental punishment and persecution.  Clause 61 of the Coroners and Justice Bill authorizes government to use its power in just such a dangerous way.  I ask you, therefore, to please oppose clause 61.  We all know the reality.”

Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and director of CLC, said: “When the holding of orthodox religious views  at work on sexual ethics is no longer tolerated by the State, and the government fails to see the point of a free speech clause in a Bill currently before Parliament that would  protect those who hold such views, we should all be alarmed. Everyone who cares about true democracy and the freedom to hold rich and diverse opinions in an open society should be concerned by what this case and the Coroners and Justice Bill signals - the first fruits of a closed and oppressive regime.”


For further information:

Onn Sein Kon (Barrister and Case Manager: Christian Legal Centre) 07545 696206

Andrea Minichiello Williams (Barrister and Founder: Christian Legal Centre) 07712591164

Editor’s Notes:

The current wording of Clause 61 to be voted upon by the House of Lords is:

61       Hatred against persons on grounds of sexual orientation

In Part 3A of the Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64) (hatred against persons on grounds of sexual orientation etc), omit section 29JA (protection for discussion or criticism of sexual conduct etc).

CLC Note: Clause 61 will effectively remove the Free Speech Clause in the Public Order Act 1986 which reads:

29JA Protection of freedom of expression (sexual orientation)

In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.


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