It’s scarcely fathomable, but Lillian Ladele has won. You may remember her – the Islington civil registrar who refused to conduct civil partnerships, despite it being a secular function of a secular job under a secular employer, who in turn was bound by the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004. The tribunal ruled:
“Islington Council rightly considered the importance of the right of the gay community not to be discriminated against, but did not consider the right of Miss Ladele as a member of a religious group.”
Absolute nonsense. As I put on my previous post on this subject, the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 do allow her employer the right to discriminate indirectly against her religion, on the condition that they can justify it. The legislation governing the non-discriminatory provision of good and services to gay people, as well as the Civil Partnership Act provide just such justification, and it’s ridiculous that the employment tribunal should rule otherwise. It’s irrelevant that the function of providing registrars for civil partnerships has been unaffected by her trying to opt out – the point surely must be that even when there is a clash of human rights such as this, an individual employed in a secular job, with a secular employer, whose job description is secular and bound by anti-discrimination laws and policies must not then be allowed to pick and choose what they will and won’t do on the grounds of belief. Ladele said in response to the ruling:
“It is a victory for religious liberty, not just for myself but for others in a similar position to mine.
“Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully and harass people over their religious beliefs,” she said.
What she means of course is that religious rights should instead be used as an excuse to bully and harass people over their sexual orientation. It is a victory which allows the freedom (for there is no such ‘right’) to discriminate freely on the grounds of belief, the dangers of which should be clear to anyone who engages with the world in a rational manner. Peter Tatchell added:
“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?”
“This important ruling confirms that gay rights should not be treated as trumping religious rights.”
“If we really believe in equality before the law, that means respecting people who have sincerely held religious beliefs on sexual ethics.
“The witch hunt against those who disagree with homosexual practice has to stop.”
That is quite mendacious and self-serving. There is no human right codified anywhere which allows discrimination, nor has anyone suggested that gay rights supersede religious rights, particularly because they are not fundamentally in conflict with one another. However, as has been shown many times recently even on this blog, there are theists who believe they are entitled to abuse the law which allows them rights against discrimination for their belief, to themselves discriminate. They are wrong. Islington Council has said it is considering an appeal. For the sake of our civil society, which is governed by equality and the rule of law, rather than by belief, superstition and scripture, I hope they do.