Saturday 24 August 2019

David Quinn: Religious freedoms under attack from equality laws

David Quinn

The more equality a society has the less freedom it has. The trick is to find the right balance between the two. This is an absolute rule of politics and no one should ever be elected to office without knowing it.

The Soviet Union strove for maximum equality and it destroyed freedom in the process. Rather less dramatically, there are those in this country who want the State to take over all state-funded schools.

They want to do this in the name of equality but if they get their way they will remove from all but the richest parents the right to choose from a variety of schools for their children.

Feminists want as many women as possible to do paid work, again in the name of equality. To this end measures are introduced -- such as state-subsidised child-care -- which make it easier for women to go to work, but much harder for them to stay at home because one-income couples end up paying more tax to subsidise the child care they don't use.

All kinds of new anti-discrimination laws are now being passed around the Western world and these also have the effect of attacking freedom.

Using these laws, the Equality Authority recently tried to force Portmarnock Golf Club to accept women as members. The authority clearly does not believe in freedom of association. Happily, the Supreme Court does and the authority failed.

But the new anti-discrimination laws are bearing down hardest not on men-only golf clubs, but on religion because the practise of religion is increasingly seen as being inherently discriminatory.

Just this week the Pope, ahead of a visit to Britain later this year, got himself into trouble with "human rights" groups (meaning left-wing pressure groups) when he indirectly highlighted the extremely serious implications of Britain's proposed new Equality Bill for religious freedom.

Already British equality laws are restricting religious freedom. For example, its Sexual Orientation Regulations have forced Catholic adoption agencies to close down because they won't accept gay couples as prospective adoptive parents.

One of the implications of the new Equality Bill in its proposed form is that it will become much harder for religious organisations to employ individuals who believe in, and will show respect for, their employer's ethos. If your employees don't respect your ethos, your ethos will soon be dead in the water.

In a clear reference to this proposed law -- which has united all the major religions in opposition, including the very mild Church of England -- the Pope said: "The effect of some of this legislation designed to achieve this goal (of equality) has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs."

Similar laws now exist in this country. For example, if we still had active Catholic adoption agencies here and they took the same attitude as their counterparts in Britain towards same-sex couples they would be in serious trouble under the Equal Status Act.

But the upcoming Civil Partnership Bill, which will give marriage-like rights to same-sex couples, will also attack religious freedom; and with a few notable exceptions, no one in Leinster House seems to care.

For example, under this legislation a church hall that refused to rent itself out to a gay couple wishing to celebrate their civil union there could be sued. Its ethos wouldn't matter a jot.

Similarly, if a printer was asked to print off the invites, and said he couldn't on grounds of religious belief, he too could be sued.

As it is, under the Equal Status Act, if a printer was asked to print material he deemed blasphemous, he would have to or he would be found guilty of religious discrimination.

The logic of all this is inexorable. Britain's equality minister, the odious Harriet Harman, appears to believe that places of worship should be forced to host same-sex civil union ceremonies -- after all, discrimination is discrimination.

Stonewall, the militant gay rights group in Britain, agrees. It believes that in the next 20 years or so, the various religions should be forced to allow gay marriage, or else.

Even now, there is pressure in Ireland to rescind Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act which allows religious organisations to employ according to ethos. This, too, is deemed to permit unjust discrimination and therefore it too must go.

The hilarious thing is that Britain's National Secular Society told the Pope to butt out of politics, that religious belief could not be above the law.

But what if the law seeks to restrict religious belief, to limit our ability to practise our religion as we have always done? What then?

This isn't a case of the Church interfering with the State. It's a case of the State interfering with the Church and it is doing so in the name of the new moral absolute, equality. Disastrously, and shamefully, our politicians seem all too happy to impose this new absolute.

dquinn@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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