Thursday, April 29, 2010

Britain does away with conscientious objection nonsense

A victory for sanity in Britain. A Christian counsellor (photo to the left), employed by the state, lost a court case that's essentially focused on conscientious objection. The guidance counsellor refused to provide services to gay couples, on religious reasons. The Guardian reports 'Lord Justice Laws said legislation to protect views held purely on religious grounds could not be justified. He said it was an irrational idea "but it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary". Laws is correct here. The truth of religious belief cannot be established, there's competing and importantly conflicting religious beliefs about. Surely the question of whether someone receives professional services without a great deal of fuzz must not depend on whatever private beliefs a professional services provider holds.

Says Laws, "We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic....The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself."

Church people like the evangelical former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey suggested that rulings such as these could lead to 'public unrest' because special rules and special dispensation ain't provided to him and his fellow religious believers. Says Carey, "The comparison of a Christian, in effect, with a 'bigot' (ie, a person with an irrational dislike to homosexuals) begs further questions. It is further evidence of a disparaging attitude to the Christian faith and its values." Makes you wonder how else you'd described someone who irrationally discriminates against fellow citizens. 'Bigot' seems an appropriate description, adding 'God' as justification does precious little to change that situation.

Carey also claims, “It is, of course, but a short step from the dismissal of a sincere Christian from employment to a religious bar to any employment by Christians." This is utter nonsense, of course, a good teaching case for showing how unsubstantiated slippery slope claims are used for rhetorical gain. There is no short step of any kind here. All the court is saying is that Christians got to do their jobs like like everyone else, muslim or atheist, communist or liberal. If they don't feel like doing particular jobs they'd try to find other jobs. It's really a bit like a communist saying that she has conscientious objections to working for Deutsche Bank. We'd think that's funny, too, and suggest that perhaps she's in the wrong job.

The crux of it is, of course, that if you offer public services (particularly so if you're in the pay of taxpayers) you can't choose who you offer these services to, based on arbitrary criteria such as skin color, sex or sexual orientation. Nobody forced you to enter a profession that would require you to provide services to people whom your religious ideology tells you to discriminate again. Do something else, like for instance working in a church - if there is one not subsidized one way or another by the state - and enjoy the intellectual incest that goes with interacting with people like yourself. You certainly are not entitled to have your prejudiced life sponsored by tax monies.

1 comment:

  1. Way to go. Having less of a common law based legal system, in Sweden, these things were decided when Parliament installed a gender-neutral marriage legislation. To acquire the license to marry people, institutions and individuals must apply this law. This has led to some debate within various churches as to whether or not they should offer marriage as a service, with most of them deciding to do so.

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