Religious discrimination round-up

The trouble with starting a blog on which to post about non-Boris-related matters is that it does rather get neglected when things like the Ray Lewis affair kick off at City Hall. If Boris keeps up this rate of gaffes and controversies, Pushing the boundary may not be updated nearly as often as I might originally have expected.

Female bishops are to be ordained for the first time by the Church of England Elsewhere in the past week, the Church of England approved the to my mind wholly uncontroversial plans to permit the ordination of women bishops.

Some of the arguments against this long overdue move that I heard on the news were extraordinary. I stared at the woman who said that because Jesus was a man, all the bishops have to be men too or they couldn’t represent him properly. I mean, popular representations lead me to believe that Jesus had a beard: would she suggest that any bishop who shaves should be similarly banned from ordination?

Surely the real point is that Jesus was a person. Therefore, simply let a person represent him, if that’s what bishops are supposed to do (as an atheist, I don’t claim any expertise).

Fortunately sense was seen and the proposals were passed, bringing the established church somewhat further into the 21st century.

Unfortunately, within a few days of this one step forward, employment law appears to have taken one step back, as a tribunal has ruled that a Christian registrar should have been allowed to refuse to perform civil partnership ceremonies.

This ridiculous outcome suggests that one person’s homophobic selective reading of a sacred text which she chooses to believe in should take precedence over obeying an equality-focused law applying directly to said person’s job.

As I understand them, the fundamental tenets of pretty much any religion are to treat others with respect and love and to remember that all people are equal in the eyes of whichever deity/ies you believe in.

It’s only when you start getting into plucking selected rants from selected books of the Bible (or other religious text) that you find anything suggesting homosexuality is “against God’s will” (as the registrar claimed), but taking that approach would also teach us that menstruating women are unclean to God (and other bizarre suggestions from Leviticus), which makes you wonder if this registrar, Lillian Ladele, suffers a prolonged monthly session of self-loathing and apologetic prayer.

Today’s tribunal ruling sets a dangerous precedent, by suggesting that someone’s personal beliefs can be used to overrule equalities legislation, effectively allowing them to opt out from complying with the law. As Peter Tatchell puts it:

The tribunal has ruled that people of faith are above the law. They can plead conscientious objection and be exempt from the laws that apply to everyone else.

If this judgment stands, it will pave the way for religious people to have the legal entitlement to discriminate on conscientious grounds against people of other faiths, unmarried parents and many others who they condemn as immoral.

We could soon find religious police officers, solicitors, fire fighters and doctors refusing to serve members of the public who they find morally objectionable – and being allowed to do so by the law.

Lillian Ladele claims she was won a victory for religious liberty. No, she has not. She has won a victory for the right to discriminate. The denial of equal treatment is not a human right. It is a violation of human rights.

Public servants like registrars have a duty to serve all members of the public without fear or favour. Once society lets some people opt out of upholding the law, where will it end?

Islington Council, against whom Ms. Ladele’s complaint was brought, are considering appealing against the outcome. I very much hope that they do, and that this time those sitting in judgement remember the importance of protecting gay rights from those who seek to erode them for no more reason than personal beliefs – which in general terms are, after all, exactly what equality legislation is supposed to protect those on the receiving end of discrimination from.