by Terry Sanderson, reposted from the National Secular Society
We have reported on Newsline many cases of Christian activists trying to use the law to gain special privileges in the workplace for their beliefs. Examples include Nadia Eweida, the BA worker who was supposedly denied the right to wear a crucifix over her uniform, and Lillian Ladele, the Islington registrar who didn’t want to perform civil partnerships. There seem to have been dozens of these people coming forward claiming religious discrimination.
Self-appointed “defenders of religious freedom”
The Daily Mail and the Telegraph have provided a wide platform for these moans, and helped groups like the Christian Institute and Christian Concern for Our Nation to create in the public mind a whole mythology about the ‘persecution of Christians in the UK’. A couple of weeks ago I witnessed Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, regurgitating it in an Intelligence Squared debate at the Royal Geographical Society.
Such cases tend to come to grief when the full facts are uncovered in court. Freed from the distortions of the right-wing press, these cases nearly always turn out to be nothing more than religious activism posing as discrimination.
The latest case, thrown out of an industrial tribunal this week, involved paediatrician Sheila Matthews, who claims she was “forced out” of her position on the Northamptonshire County Council Adoption Panel because she would not recommend gay couples as adopters, however suitable they might be, because it is against her religion. Tellingly, she was represented at the tribunal by the usual suspects in these cases: barrister Paul Diamond and the Christian Legal Centre.
But once under scrutiny in the court, the carefully edited version of events that had been given to us by the Christian agitators was shown up for what it was – a lot of disingenuous rubbish.
The Head of Children’s Services at the Council, Martin Pratt, stated in a letter to Dr Matthews: “There are three concerns that I have: that we have to comply with the law, that we attract the widest possible range of suitable adopters and that we comply with our own policies. I believe that we could not allow a panel member to continue to participate in the process who is unable to consider, on the merits of the application alone, applications to adopt.” Dr Matthews said she did not think that gay couples should ever adopt.
The judge in the case — John MacMillan —said Matthews had no case against the Council. He said: “The complaints of religious discrimination fail and are dismissed. This case fails fairly and squarely on its facts. In our judgment, at least from the time of the pre-hearing review, the continuation of these proceedings was plainly misconceived… they were doomed to fail. There is simply no factual basis for the claims.”
Mr MacMillan said there was no evidence that Dr Matthews was treated differently from any other panel member who might request to abstain from voting, or that she was specifically discriminated against on the basis of her Christianity. He said the issue “transcended the boundaries of all religions” and ruled that Dr Matthews should pay the Council’s legal costs. And yet still Dr Matthews says she intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
The ear-bashing that she got from the judge was well-deserved, but you will notice from theDaily Mail’s account of the case that there is no mention of what he said about the futility and emptiness of Dr Matthew’s legal challenges – but the paper reproduces a lot of her homophobic opinion.
And this is precisely how the mythology of Christian persecution has been created, by partial reporting and gross exaggeration. When the case first comes to public notice those on the other side — usually local authorities or other public bodies — are bound by confidentiality not to give their side of the story until it reaches court. This allows the Christians to have a field day with the facts, carefully editing the tale for their own advantage.
It seems these self-appointed defenders of religious freedom cannot win their cases by telling it like it is (case after case that has reached court has failed) and so have to depend on sympathetic journalists to spread their propaganda for them.
We’ve had marriage registrars, marriage counsellors, and now an anti-gay adoption adviser, who has, following her removal from an adoption panel, after refusing to rule on cases involving same-sex parents, sued for religious discrimination:
She [Dr Sheila Matthews] said: “I understand that legislation permits same sex couples to adopt and they are positively encouraged to apply, but I have professional concerns, based on educational and psychological evidence, of the influences on children growing up in homosexual households and I feel this is not the best possible option for a child.
“I do not consider myself to be homophobic, however I believe that children do best in families with a father and mother playing different roles in a child’s upbringing and committed to each other in a lifelong relationship.”
She added: “My view arose from both a professional one from my reading of the literature, and an historical Christian perspective of relationships, based on the Bible, an authority which our court system still uses today to swear in those giving evidence and juries, based on its authority.”
Of course the homophobia is built in to the second paragraph, but Dr Matthews’ problem, as with the previous instances of Christian soldiers trying to get opt-outs in law to discriminate based entirely on the basis of their crazy belief, is that she was in breach of her contract, as well as of the law. Her view isn’t a medical one (or even a factual one if you want to broaden the argument) which can be substantiated at all, and no doubt she’ll keep insisting it is, but noone has suggested she not be allowed to believe this bigoted garbage – she just can’t act on it in a professional capacity. Although gay and religious rights have clashed here again (and will continue to do so), the reason why her ‘religious rights’ have been placed second is clear:
The employment tribunal, sitting in Leicester, dismissed the claim.
Concluding a two-day hearing, regional employment judge John MacMillan said she had no case against the council.
He said: “The complaints of religious discrimination fail and are dismissed.
“This case fails fairly and squarely on its facts.”
He added: “In our judgment, at least from the time of the pre-hearing review, the continuation of these proceedings was plainly misconceived… they were doomed to fail.
“There is simply no factual basis for the claims.”
Mr MacMillan said there was no evidence that Dr Matthews was treated differently from any other panel member who might request to abstain from voting, or that she was specifically discriminated against on the basis of her Christianity.
He said the issue “transcended the boundaries of all religions” and ruled that Dr Matthews should pay the council’s legal costs.
Message to the legions of Christian soldiers yet to come: your right to practice and believe in your religion do not (in the world of work and service provision) give you the right under the law to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation. So quit it.
Now I’ve seen absurd commentary like this before by far-right evangelicals before, but never really had the chance to refute it in blog form. So here goes (I’ll comment on his abuse of statistics as I go):
Homosexual/bi-sexual individuals are seven times more likely to contemplate or commit suicide. Oooh, that doesn’t sound very healthy.
It isn’t, and if true would be a serious reflection on self-esteem issues directly resulting from the homophobia of people like…Barton himself. So he takes great delight in setting up homophobic hatred, finding people actually respond to others’ hatred in physical, not just internalised ways, and them blaming them for it. Not only is that not Christian, it’s the textbook definition of abuse. If gay and bi- people really are that much more likely to kill themselves than straight people (I’d love to see where that’s definitively cited), surely as a society we should be asking the question why, rather than condemning people for the self-hatred they feel.
Homosexuals die decades earlier than heterosexuals. That doesn’t sound healthy.
Decades eh? Well that’s probably true in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia where there’s a legal penalty for loving and having sexual relations with members of the same sex, but I’ll bet Barton would be hard pressed to prove it’s ‘decades’ throughout the developed West. Matthew Shepard of course died decades earlier but he was murdered for being gay. It may have been true in the 80′s/90′s as well, given the HIV/AIDS-related death rate, but with the improvements in combination therapies, and the massive increase in heterosexuals living with the disease, I’ll be shocked if that statement can be backed up by referring to HIV/AIDS. How do we die decades earlier, Barton? Oh maybe like with other evangelicals you’re lying.
Nearly one-half of practicing homosexuals admit to five hundred or more sex partners and nearly one-third admit to a thousand or more sex partners in a lifetime.
Nearly a half of which practising homosexuals? I don’t know anyone who’s anywhere near that number and a) I know a lot of gay men (why isn’t he talking about women, or is he?) and b) I know a few promiscuous gay men. I don’t believe the numbers for a start, but even if either of them is true, I’m confused: what would the essential problem be? I’ve tried throughout the period I’ve been sexually active, to be as considerate and honest to my sexual partners as humanly possible. I’ve never passed on an STI and have had around 100 sexual partners in my life. I don’t know many gay people who’ve had experience anywhere near that amount, nor many who want to. Pretty much all are looking for love at the end of the day.
Homosexuals have an HIV prevalence sixty times higher than the general population.
Homosexuals have Hepatitis B virus five to six times more often and Hepatitis C virus infections about two times more often than the regular population.
Sixty eh? We’ll have to have a look at that number a little later on, but I suspect the number’s more like ten at the most.
Homosexuals are less than three percent of the population but they account for sixty-four percent of the syphilis cases.
I mean, you go through all this stuff, sounds to me like that’s not very healthy. Why don’t we regulate homosexuality?
This is the clearest demonstration of the games these monsters play with statistics. Less than three percent of the population according to extremely flawed polls, for a start, but he then willfully conflates that number with 64%, but 64% of whom? Of the entire population? How could a small proportion of less than 3% of the population then account for 64% of the syphilis cases of the entire population? Answer: they can’t, but Barton’s reaching out to a tabloid mentality, whose participants are unable or unwilling to see through these lies. Having repeatedly cited the Center for Disease Control, in a vain attempt to justify his bigotry, what he really doesn’t want you to read is this:
Stigma and homophobia may have a profound impact on the lives of MSM, especially their mental and sexual health. Internalized homophobia may impact men’s ability to make healthy choices, including decisions around sex and substance use. Stigma and homophobia may limit the willingness of MSM to access HIV prevention and care, isolate them from family and community support, and create cultural barriers that inhibit integration into social networks.
Racism, poverty, and lack of access to health care are barriers to HIV prevention services, particularly for MSM from racial or ethnic minority communities. A recent CDC study found a strong link between socioeconomic status and HIV among MSM: prevalence increased as education and income decreased, and awareness of HIV status was higher among MSM with greater education and income.
And it’s clear why not. The HIV and other STI infection rates for gay people remain depressingly high, but they remain steadfastly that way for clear reasons, and chief amongst those reasons are the hateful views of people like Barton. He wants to blame gay people for the homophobia that they react to, but the truth couldn’t be more compelling: he and his filth are the problem, and one which needs to be addressed urgently. Let me show you how easy it is to play their game of abuse. Just say (because who’s going to check?) 95% of murderers are white men who believe in God. Almost all child abuse is conducted by white heterosexual men with a vehement belief in God. Every war in recent human history has been started by a white man who attended Church on a regular basis. Why don’t we ban religion and keep white men who are prone to belief in superstition under indefinite house arrest? Noone would seek to regulate religion because of such a ridiculous argument against it, and Barton and friends should be universally condemned for theirs against gay people.
As with much of the stupidity coming out of America these days, I don’t necessarily have the words to capture how I feel about the right-wing furore over the proposed ‘Ground Zero mosque’. I’ll give you a few from Charlie Brooker instead:
Millions are hopping mad over the news that a bunch of triumphalist Muslim extremists are about to build a “victory mosque” slap bang in the middle of Ground Zero.
The planned “ultra-mosque” will be a staggering 5,600ft tall – more than five times higher than the tallest building on Earth – and will be capped with an immense dome of highly-polished solid gold, carefully positioned to bounce sunlight directly toward the pavement, where it will blind pedestrians and fry small dogs. The main structure will be delimited by 600 minarets, each shaped like an upraised middle finger, and housing a powerful amplifier: when synchronised, their combined sonic might will be capable of relaying the muezzin’s call to prayer at such deafening volume, it will be clearly audible in the Afghan mountains, where thousands of terrorists are poised to celebrate by running around with scarves over their faces, firing AK-47s into the sky and yelling whatever the foreign word for “victory” is.
It seems as though freedom of religion in America for right wingers is contingent on being…well…Christian and right-wing. Brooker quite rightly points out the absurdity of this controversy, especially given that
Cordoba House, as it’s known, is a proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, and swimming pool. Its aim is to improve inter-faith relations. It’ll probably also have comfy chairs and people who smile at you when you walk in, the monsters.
To get to the Cordoba Centre from Ground Zero, you’d have to walk in the opposite direction for two blocks, before turning a corner and walking a bit more. The journey should take roughly two minutes, or possibly slightly longer if you’re heading an angry mob who can’t hear your directions over the sound of their own enraged bellowing.
New York being a densely populated city, there are lots of other buildings and businesses within two blocks of Ground Zero, including a McDonald’s and a Burger King, neither of which has yet been accused of serving milkshakes and fries on hallowed ground. Regardless, for the opponents of Cordoba House, two blocks is too close, period. Frustratingly, they haven’t produced a map pinpointing precisely how close is OK.
Seriously what is this ‘hallowed ground’ garbage? Guess what Americans, we had four suicide bombings but we just got to grips with it and got on with our lives. You however are still doing this:
Yes it IS scary that there are people out there who are prepared to commit mass murder, and take themselves out doing so. But resorting to intolerance, lynch mobs and turning your backs on every principle on which your country is based is an act of incalculable stupidity. Nearly 3,000 people died nearly ten years ago, many at the site of the former World Trade Center, but to call that site ‘hallowed ground’ (which by extension covers the entire neighbourhood or any other radius taking people’s fancy really) is extraordinarily dangerous, not to mention specious, for the reasons Brooker gives earlier. Bush may be gone, but the people who gave him license to do what he did haven’t gone away. They’re not PNAC, nor any other special interest group – they’re just average, ‘God-fearing’ Americans.
And they need to get a grip.