When Human Right Collide

“I hold the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others and that this is the God-ordained place for sexual relations.

“I feel unable to facilitate directly the formation of a union that I sincerely believe is contrary to God’s law.” – Lillian Ladele

Lillian Ladele, a fundamentalist Christian, decided that her literal interpretation of her religion trumped her responsibilities in a secular job with a secular employer, governed by secular laws. Civil registrars used to work independently, yet are now governed by local authorities, who in turn are bound by the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Neither of these Acts is discriminatory, indeed they were both introduced to redress discrimination, yet Ladele believes that anti-discrimination legislation against gay people instead actively discriminates against her, by refusing her the right to discriminate. Most people seem to understand that we’re a society governed by law, but it also increasingly appears that in the age of human rights, there will be competing claims – she has the right to practice her religion, we have the right to get married, so what should happen when the two collide?

Camilla Cavendish stumbles on an excellent point when she describes introducing her son to religion, whilst herself believing that religion is at its core a primary means of social control:

The first surprise was how much my son enjoyed the ritual, the kindness.

I don’t think anyone can reasonably discount the desirability of kindness. Any means of bringing that state about, either for individuals or groups, must be desirable. However kindness is hardly an exclusive state brought about by religion, nor is it the sole reason why people embrace religions. And whilst being religious is something which is protected under human rights legislation (Article 9.1 of the Human Rights Act 1998):

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

the very next subsection puts limits on how religion can be expressed lawfully in society:

2. Freedom to manifest ones religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

It seems very clear that this law takes the case out of the broader scope of human rights. Her job description is compliant with human rights law, and she is thus bound by it. She must comply with her secular job’s job description, and the equality legislation and code of conduct binding her secular employer, or leave. Yet the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 prohibit discrimination in the public sphere on the grounds of religion or belief. This is what she claims underpins her case, so if rights are in conflict with one another, what do the relevant laws concerning human rights within employment tell us?

The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 appear at first glance to support her claim. She must be protected from bullying on the grounds of religion or belief, and it is her perception which is crucial. However employers also have an opt out when it comes to indirect discrimination. It’s true that they’re not allowed to have employment rules or any other practices which have the effect of disadvantaging people of a certain religion, but they can if they can justify it. Extrapolating that forward, the Council’s business practice – officiating over civil partnerships – which is bound by another equality law and set up through yet another, requires employees not to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. The indirect discrimination against her belief/religion in short isn’t unlawful.

I can’t imagine she’ll be successful, as she’s hit twice more by the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation Regulations) Regulations 2007:

8.—(1) It is unlawful for a public authority exercising a function to do any act which constitutes discrimination.

(2) In paragraph (1)—

(a) “public authority” includes any person who has functions of a public nature (subject to paragraph (3)), and

(b) “function” means function of a public nature.

although rights are always in conflict with one another and the goalposts will always shift. It’s the inbuilt problem with the diversity agenda – if you champion difference, are all differences equal or are some more equal than others, and what happens (as in this case) if the answer is subjective? Ladele does have a point when she says:

“If we are genuine when we talk about diversity and equality then shouldn’t we be prepared to tolerate a range of views, not simply those we agree with?”

Well yes, but society has to take a stand on what most benefits the majority and protects the minority. Inhibiting the right to discriminate based on belief is now understood to be common sense by the majority, and the bottom line, as expressed by Tony Blair himself, is that there is a consensus that anti-gay discrimination for any reason is unacceptable.

“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” – Albert Einstein

Einstein’s words couldn’t be more poignant for me and sum this case up rather well.

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4 responses to “When Human Right Collide

  1. Jason, I hope this doesn’t sound patronising – but that was an excellent entry! So well researched and really interesting. I love reading this blog and it deserves far more attention.

  2. Pingback: McDonald’s vs. The God Squad « Cosmodaddy

  3. Pingback: Religious Homophobia: Triumphant! « Cosmodaddy

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