Various church leaders and groups launched an attack this week on the introduction in January of the Sexual Orientation Regulations in Northern Ireland. The new laws are designed to stop businesses from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Coherent and Cohesive Voice published a full page advert in the Times, the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, preached a sermon and the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali, added his comments.
Religious Bodies are given exemption
As Thinking Anglicans comments, it’s rather difficult to see what justification exists for most of these concerns. The Northern Ireland regulations are clear in providing religious bodies with an exemption from almost all the requirements placed on everybody else. The effect is that discrimination by a religious organisation, in respect of sexual orientation. is permitted:
(a) if it is necessary to comply with the doctrine of the organisation; or
(b) so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religions followers.
Charitable bodies, whether or not religious, are also exempted, provided their actions are taken by reason of or in pursuance of their charitable instrument.
The two principles from which there is no exemption provided in Northern Ireland are:
The requirement to refrain from harassment.
The requirement that nobody providing education or social services at public expense will be allowed to discriminate in the provision of those services.
Coherent and Cohesive Voice advert
A full page advert appeared in the Times on 19 November 2006 placed by Coherent and Cohesive Voice, a network of Christian leaders in the UK. The lobby group claims hundreds of Christian leaders belong, representing hundreds of thousands of Christian voters. The only names CA has been able to identify are Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Pastor Kingsley Appiagyei, Pastor Colin Dye, Pastor Ade Omooba ,Pastor Lanre Sholola and Sam Solomon. Coherent and Cohesive Voice would appear to be a coalition of black Christian Churches.
The advertisement states their concerns about the Sexual Orientation Regulations which the Government is introducing first in Northern Ireland. Coherent and Cohesive Voice maintain the Government ignored all the representations made by religious groups expressing their concerns and is setting an unworkable precedent for England, Wales and Scotland.
The advert makes claims about what the SORs will do. As Simon Sarmineto comments on Thinking Anglicans, “several claims made in the advertisement are quite false.”
They will force all schools to actively promote homosexual Civil Partnerships ( from primary school age) to the same degree that they teach the importance of marriage. (This is patently untrue.)
They will force a printing shop run by a Christian to print fliers promoting gay sex.
They will force a family-run B&B to let out a double room to a transexual couple even if the family think it is in the best interests of their children to refuse to allow such a situation in their own home.
They will make it illegal for a heterosexual policeman, fireman or member of the Armed Forces to refuse to join a Gay Pride event promoting the homosexual way of life.
The advert argues that all people should live together respectfully and peacefully but should not be compelled by law to act against their conscience. It asks the Government to leave individuals with the freedom to make their own minds up as to what sexual practices are acceptable and what aren’t.
Coherent and Cohesive Voice briefing paper
Coherent and Cohesive Voice issued a briefing paper issued in preparation for a Mass Lobby of Parliament on 19 July 2006. It made the following claims:
Many Politicians know very little about the Sexual Orientation Regulations and what they mean.
Government assurances that Christians will not be discriminated against mean nothing unless Christians are given wholesale exemptions regarding every aspect of their life.
The SORs are just more step by the Government which take away the freedom of black British Christians to live as Christians in a democratic country, without fear of persecution.
The SORs amount to reverse discrimination against Christians.
The Government are using the ideas of ‘equality’ and ‘anti-discrimination’ to trample over their right to religious freedom.
The government is pandering to a minority group which is making the most noise.
The Government is guilty of Christianophobia in discriminating against 42million Christians.
The SORs will make it impossible to bring up children by teaching them the values in the Bible:.
It will be illegal to teach in Sunday school that homosexuality is wrong.
It will be illegal for schools to teach that marriage is better than civil partnerships.
The SORs will force us to accept Civil Partnership services (gay marriage) in our churches.
The SORs will force individuals or congregations to provide services to homosexuals, thus forcing them to deny their Christianity.
The Government must add an exception to the SORs that Christians will not be breaking the law if they refuse to provide goods and services to people of different sexual orientations, if they do it because of their religious views. If the Government doesn’t do this, they will be making it illegal for them to be Christians.
The briefing paper has the effrontery to state that these Christian groups should respect those in authority and love their neighbours as themselves.
George Hargreaves of the Hephzibah Christian Centre in Hackney has said: “I have already bought my orange jumpsuit, for no doubt prison awaits us as we fight against the tyranny of the Sexual Orientation Regulations. If opposing this law is to be counted as an act of civil disobedience, then in obedience to God we must act in loving and peaceful civil disobedience.”
Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham preaches against the bill
Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols preached a sermon in St Chad’s Cathedral and told the congregation Ministers are overturning the nation’s morality. He threatened to withdraw Catholic co-operation with the Government over schools, charity programmes and to shut down adoption agencies if the new sexual orientation regulations go ahead and they are forced to place children with gay couples. The Church has warned this would leave a huge gap in the system for helping children in care because Roman Catholic agencies find homes for about one in 20 of all children adopted from care.
Archbishop Nichols declared that ministers were “engaged in an intense and at times aggressive reshaping of our moral framework.” “…those who are elected to fashion our laws are not elected to be our moral tutors. They have no mandate or competence to be so. The Government must realise that it is not possible to seek co-operation with us while at the same time trying to impose upon us conditions which contradict our moral values. It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of faith communities, whether in schools, adoption agencies, welfare programmes, halls and shelters can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not simply a legal framework but also the moral standards at present being touted by the Government.”
The Archbishop said an inversion of family morality was being “forced on us.” “Take the notion of the family and the moral equivalence being forced upon us between marriage of a man and a woman, on the one hand, and on the other, a legally recognised partnership of two people of the same sex.”
The Bishop of Rochester has dire warnings
Following the sermon by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali, warned that Anglican youth clubs, welfare projects and charities may close because of new gay rights laws. He said that the Church of England’s charities would be “affected” by the rules, which will force them to give equal treatment to homosexuals.
Dr Nazir-Ali said: “I welcome warmly what [Bishop Nichols] has said about the Sexual Orientation Regulations. In the proposed regulations there is no clear exemption for religious belief even though it is widely known that several of the faiths in this country will have serious difficulty. These regulations will certainly affect a great deal of charitable work done by the churches and others. It is the poor and disadvantaged who will be the losers.”
Papers claim the Church of England has already warned that it believes the new laws would make it possible for a gay couple to sue a vicar who refused to bless their same-sex partnership.
The Sexual Orientation Regulations are scheduled to become law in England in April. Final details have not yet been made public, but on 28 November Miss Kelly confirmed that the new laws will go ahead. She told a conference run by the Commission for Racial Equality: “Anger about people not being able to fulfil their potential brought me into politics. Whether the barrier is their background, their race, religion or sexual orientation the Labour Party has always been prepared to take the decisions to open up opportunity for all.”
Please write to the Ministers with authority for the Regulations, Meg Munn and Ruth Kelly, and add your support.
Ruth Kelly, Dept for Communities and Local Government, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU 0207 944 4400
Meg Munn, Women and Equality Unit, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET 0207 215 5000