Sunday, 13 July 2008

It's a sin

Had a number of things I was going to blog about tonight, but got sidetracked by responding to comments instead. Anyway, here's one for starters. I was listening to Any Questions earlier today, and thought John Harris was pretty good on the issue of the registrar who didn't want to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies because of her Christian beliefs.Here's the Observer on it, and, in the interests of fairness, the Daily Mail.

John Harris asked why someone's beliefs should be accorded more respect because they're based on a belief in God. He gave the example of what would happen if he, as a vegetarian, got a job on the tills at Tesco's and refused to scan any meat that came through. His employers would obviously be entitled to say that he wasn't right for the job. He admitted it wasn't the best analogy, but the underlying point he makes is valid. (Perhaps a better analogy would be a vegetarian chef in a restaurant; if they could be kept fully occupied just doing the desserts and salads, do they have a right to demand this? Or should they just go get a job in a vegetarian restaurant instead?)

Actually, that reminds me that as a newish MP I was roped in at the very last moment to serve on an SI committee. It was only when I arrived that I realised it was something to do with giving milk to school pupils in certain parts of the country (or something like that). On the one hand, I didn't agree with it; on the other, it seemed a pretty trivial issue to rebel on. I'd been roped in by the whip as a last minute substitute, on the understanding I could leave if all the other members turned up, to take part in a debate in the Chamber. They all did, so I was allowed to scarper, and didn't have to make that decision. But if I had, would my 'issue of conscience' have been given the same respect as that of a Catholic who is anti-abortion? (Even I'm not sure if it should be; I feel strongly enough about not drinking milk to have foregone it for nearly 17 years but I don't recoil in horror whenever I walk past the dairy section in a supermarket. I accept that most people drink it, and will continue to do so - 'though that doesn't stop me doing my little bit to make the case for turning vegan on this blog).

The 'is being a vegan on a par with being a Catholic' issue hasn't come up again. Yet. Or if it's vegetarians cf. Catholics, I guess it's vegans cf. members of Opus Dei?


Jay said...

I agree with the judgment of the tribunal.

It could hardly rule otherwise given that the issue of conscience is upheld in relation to other faiths, unless it is to be seen to be discriminating against Christians.

This not the position of the Government which over-rides individual conscience and makes its exercise a criminal offence as B&B owners whose conscience can't accommodate practising homosexuality and Catholic adoption agencies have found.

This Government has indulged in policies that undermine the values of Christianity. It has encouraged a society which is selfish, self-centred and materialistic in which the indvidual is encouraged to renounce personal responsibility. Now it wonders why there is such violence on the streets.

Personally, I have always been rather anti organised religion but I'm almost on the point of joining the C of E in protest!

Kerry said...

But where's the dividing line between having religious faith and being a bigot? With some forms of discrimination - e.g. on grounds of race and disabilities - it is pretty much accepted by everyone that there are no get out clauses. (As we saw in the Glenn Hoddle case). So if we believe homosexuals are entitled to the same protection against discrimination... there shouldn't be get out clauses there either. Should there? And the same should apply re attitudes towards women in certain religions.

Dick Puddlecote said...

"Perhaps a better analogy would be a vegetarian chef in a restaurant; if they could be kept fully occupied just doing the desserts and salads, do they have a right to demand this? Or should they just go get a job in a vegetarian restaurant instead?"

Good point Kerry. Should the business owner be allowed to dictate policy and the staff be expected to follow it (or get another job if they don't like it), or should the business owner's needs be secondary to those of his staff?

What do you think? ;-)

Jay said...

I think that a possible working definition of a bigot is one who holds an unjustified position which is often accompanied by dislike and condemnation, not of the behaviour, but of the indvidual. By this definition those whose religious beliefs can't accommodate, say, homosexuality are not bigots because firstly, they consider their position justified on the grounds of subscription to certain teachings and secondly, it wouldn't be incompatible for them to like homosexuals as people while still disapproving of the behaviour. A bigot, on the other hand, wouldn't be able to justify his attitude, he just 'hates poofs'.

Even if we disagree with the grounds of someone's belief, the mark of a civilised society is respect and toleration towards people who don't share our beliefs, and while I can recognise the rationale behind anti-discrimination legislation, I believe that it is quite wrong to criminalise those whose conscience can't support its practical consequences. I think that the B&B owner provides a good example: if the owner were, as a private individual home owner to invite a homosexual couple to stay, he could acceptably accommodate each person in separate rooms. The couple, as guests in his home, knowing his views and not wanting to offend, would respect and accept this. With legislation he is instead forced either to criminalise himself or compromise his conscience.

I think, really, that the State can't, through legislation, change people's attitudes at heart; it can only change behaviour which doesn't denote an emotional change. Nor do I believe that it is the proper concern of government to try to change people's attitudes and beliefs. In fact I think that it's a very dangerous route to go down.

Mr Potarto said...

Jay, I'm not sure I follow. As I understand it, the homosexuals getting married were not intending to indulge in intercourse during the ceremony, so if the registrar hates the act, but likes the people I don't see why see shouldn't marry them.

I don't know why you are talking about criminalisation. No one wants to imprison the registrar, they just want her to do the job she is paid for, without pre-conditions. If she can't she should find another job. What a stridently pious Christian is doing marrying people in a secular ceremony I can't imagine anyway.

Jay said...

The registrar's position in marrying a gay couple compromises her religious beliefs because she believes that gay marriage is wrong. I do agree that it rings oddly that she would want to officiate at secular ceremonies at all - perhaps she's satisfied that they'll be followed by a religious blessing, I've no idea.

My point about criminalisation referred not to the registrar's case but the broader issue of the recent legislation which criminalises people in other fields, such as B&B owners and Catholic adoption agencies.