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Registrars, religion and prejudice

Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley, thinks that allowing a registrar the right of refusal is wrong

Published on July 18th 2008.

Registrars, religion and prejudice

I have always assumed, admittedly without checking the evidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not train to become consultant haematologists.

Their interpretation of scripture which prohibits them from accepting blood transfusions would presumably disqualify them from practising as any kind of surgeon or clinician.

The implication of this ruling is that as long as your religious belief is strong and sincere, you can be excused duties providing services for Gays, Blacks, Women, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Arsenal supporters or any other group your religion targets.

Similarly, if your Christian views are such that as a marriage registrar you feel that you cannot officiate at a gay civil ceremony, surely you are equally disqualified from doing your job.

I therefore found the recent decision to allow marriage registrar Lillian Ladele to carry on refusing to officiate at gay weddings, because of her Christian beliefs, bizarre and with potential consequences of two kinds. Fairly obviously, this could be a major blow to anti-discrimination legislation and a boost for active bigots. The tribunal presumably would not have upheld the decision if she has just said she hated gays.

(Admittedly, Lillian Ladele, a Christian, was doing the job of a marriage registrar before civil partnerships were introduced into UK law. So maybe she should have been re-deployed rather than sacked).

It was the cover of a serious religious belief that allowed her to refuse to carry out her paid public duties. A prejudiced atheist quite rightly would have had no such get out clause.

What pathways to discrimination have been opened by this barmy tribunal? Do they not know that at the heart of many religions are often disturbing views about people of other creeds and races, who may be referred to as 'unclean' inferior or worse.

The Royal Navy recently recognised Satanism as a religion for one of its ratings, one can only imagine what duties this tribunal could excuse a Satanist from.

The implication of this ruling is that as long as your religious belief is strong and sincere, you can be excused duties providing services for Gays, Blacks, Women, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Arsenal supporters or any other group your religion targets.

As even the Inquisition did not find a sure way of testing the sincerity of religious belief, this tribunal has created a haven for bigots.

Less obviously, this decision is a challenge to religious tolerance. This is often thought of as a historically defining characteristic of the British. It is not. Slowly over the last 200 years, discriminatory legislation against Jews, Catholics and other non-Anglican creeds have been repealed. As Prince Charles has pointed out, a Catholic or a Muslim could not become Queen in this country.

This discriminatory legislation was itself the result of bloody religious wars in the 16th and 17th centuries. Slowly a 'live and let live' attitude has developed, best characterised by 'I don’t agree with them, but they are entitled to their own views'. This has been in effect, a privatisation of religious views, i.e. if you hold your views in private and don’t want to force your religious world views on to others, then everybody can get along.

Nobody is threatened by Sikh policemen who carry on doing their job effectively while wearing turbans, or Jews who have different holidays, or Muslims who want a break at a particular time in order to pray.

People are resentful if their fellow workers don’t have to carry out the same tasks as they do, particularly if this is based on religious prejudice. The Right has characterised the tribunal decision as a victory against political correctness. It is not. It is a triumph for shallow thinking which could lead to greater discrimination and religious intolerance.

In a fortnight I will attend my friends' Rosa and Lee’s wedding. I will be glad that the civic ceremony will not be presided over by somebody who considers lesbians to be inferior. That knowledge could ruin a happy occasion, but it would be even better if we knew that people with those views were not given a privileged position in the registrars’ service.

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25 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

ArniJuly 18th 2008.

Anonymous says that the law is irrelevant and we should only live by the bible. Others have already pointed out the impossibility of that. Otherwise the eating of shellfish and pork would be a crime (rather than a matter of personal conscience). Christians throughout the ages have made sacrifices for their faith. Where belief is incompatible with the law they have submitted to the consequences of the law, even to death. Jesus himself acknowledged the state and the right of the state to impose laws. If this woman is required by law to do something she truly believes is wrong then she should resign and sacrifice her career for her faith. "My religious belief" cannot be an excuse for an illegal act - the rule of law would fail and we would live in an anarchy.The reality is that the bible is not one book but many, written separately over a period of hundreds of years, and often written many years after the events they describe. They were written in different languages, often with imprecise scripts, in cultural contexts that we simply cannot relate to. There are no original documents, only copies of copies, with differences between them. Christians are incredibly selective in their adherence to different biblical principles and yet at the same time many maintain their belief in the literal truth of the whole bible. This is impossible. They do however sincerely believe it and justify it by creating complex interpretations of conflicting passages to try to extract a consistent meaning. I know, I used to do it. Through ongoing indoctrination christians come to accept their community’s current interpretation of the bible as obvious truth. These interpretations have constantly changed over the centuries, with each group convinced of the truth of their interpretation. Once you stop trying to use the bible as a detailed rulebook to define modern morality, it opens up the possibility of making a decision based on what is right for people, rather than what is right for an interpretation of ancient manuscripts. In fact, you start to understand that trying to live modern life by standards set in an age when behaviours we now consider barbaric were commonplace is actually immoral. "Live and let live."

Kev PJuly 18th 2008.

PS - Congrats to Rosa and Lee!!

AnonymousJuly 18th 2008.

A bigot - a person obstinately devoted to his or her own opinions. Sounds a lot like Mr Stringer to me.It's even more funny as the law that has supported Mrs Ladele, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, was voted on by our beloved Graham. It wasn't the cover of a serious religious belief, as suggested, but a cover by a law which Graham Stringer and the Labour part introduced.Within that very same law which Mr Stringer subscribes to, it clearly outlaws "expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions". The above article runs dangerously close to highlighting Mr Stringer's own bigoted views of Christianity. Home Office Minister Vernon Coker supports this by stating "To be targeted because of your religion is wholly unacceptable"The problems with all of this legislation is that you cannot keep all of the people happy all of the time. People should be allowed to express their views in an open and free manner. Even if their viewpoints are not ones we ourselves subscribe to. It's part of our basic fundamental rights as human beings.Even the new "Homophobic Hatred Law" has the following clause "for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred" and it was Mr Stringer's own party that started the ball rolling on that one. Although Graham might not like it, that's the law.

Bobby MJuly 18th 2008.

Anon - PLEASE answer the question above... I really am intersted in your answer.

BenJuly 18th 2008.

I agree totally; this logic by extension could mean that if I work in Sainsbury's on the checkout and I don't agree with gays, then I could refuse to serve them... or refuse to marry black people or catholics. It's the law. Deal with it.

Stevie boy MancJuly 18th 2008.

She's paid to do a job and she should pull her socks up and get on with it. A registry office wedding is not a religious ceremony so she should leave religion out of it. I don't see her kicking up a fuss because people aren't allowed to play religious music or sing Hymns at a registry office wedding. Therefore I don't see a point to the argument that she started her job before the legislation came in because there were and still aren't any religious aspects to the job. If she doesn't like it why doesn't she find another vocation that suits her, she could become a Bishop, I here they have openings right now. 2 people who love each other should be allowed affirm that commitment at a registry office whether they're bent or not, that's what it's there for. If I get married I don't want some snotty herbert deciding whether or not I measure up to their moral religious values, I've paid them to do a job they can bloody get on with doing it.I'm not having a go at bible bashers, I treat everyone I find exactly the same, I don't judge other people and I don't expect them to judge me either. If my thoughts offend your values well tough, their your values I don't expect everyone to agree with them, in fact I don't expect anyone to agree with them asnot everyone has the same values, we've all just got to accept that and live with it, forceing your own or my own values on anyone else is wrong. Anyway, gotta run, got that Gene Robinson bloke popping in for a cuppa.

SimonJuly 18th 2008.

The holy bibbly preaches all sorts of ridiculous things. It is a book of stories written by a bunch of old men in a time when these views were acceptable. I find it endlessly entertaining that people based a religion around it and live their lives by the supposed moral codes it allegedly contains.

AdrienJuly 18th 2008.

I agree whole heartedly that this person's homophobic attitudes should be challenged. It would be interesting to read the case law and how this has been presented in legal argument by both sides rather than the emotive but understandably impassioned response of Mr Stringer. I have faced homophobia on a regular basis, not just in my career, but in restaurants, shops, hotels, etc ranging from snide little comments to blatent insults. The fact that this is offensive is not taken seriously and I have never known it to be challenged by anyone witnessing, in fact I've been told "what did you expect" and "to stop being so sensitive" or "it's just a little teaseing and you know what 'X' is like". This behaviour ghettoises people and happens every day, everywhere. A piece in MC is a start but most of the people who read this will hopefully have a mature and measured opinion. Whilst religious dictats may be partly to blame but the ludicrous situation remains that young adults can not recieve a balanced and informed education, cannot openly debate all aspects of sexuality and do not receive appropriate support within the education system when bullied, excluded or treated differently simply for the fact that they may be gay. The current education acts prevent homosexuality being presented as a viable alternative to hetrosexuality on the grounds that it may currupt. If this behaviour was directed at people of race, women or the disabled there would not have been a tribunal.

Kev PJuly 18th 2008.

For once I agree with Graham! The decision of the employment tribunal set a dangerous precedent and I am extremely glad that Islington Council are appealing it. She is a paid public servant - if she does not feel she can carry out her public duties, she should resign and get a job where her bigotry will be more acceptable. Perhaps with the church?

Hallelujah!July 18th 2008.

Andy L, the Bible very definitely preaches that homosexuality is wrong.

Slip DigbyJuly 18th 2008.

Does God have a weekly column as well? I'd like to hear his opinion of the congestion charge

AnonymousJuly 18th 2008.

George Washington - "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible" ... and Abraham Lincoln - "I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this Book that you can by reason and the balance by faith, any you will live and die a better man. It is the best Bood which God has given to man" ... A comment for JO77. I spent over 12mths studying the origins and transmission of the Bible. Your comments are so far from the truth they are laughable. Take the Dead Sea Scrolls as an example. These scrolls found in Qumran contains many copies/fragments of the biblical book Isaiah. These texts pre-date all existing copies. Except for a few minute copying errors, they are identical to what you would read in a modern Bible today. The Bible is the best preserved ancient document by a country mile.

AnonymousJuly 18th 2008.

Andy L - we all deserve what we should get, not just people who are homosexual! Ultimately that's why God sent his only Son into this world to live and then to die in your and my place. God's love was shown and proved beyond all doubt by that amazing sacrifice. I mean it would be hard enough allowing a child of mine to die for a relative or someone I was close to, but to put your one and only Son on a cross in the place of people who hate you and curse you, that's the ultimate sacrifice and the ultimate love right there. ... There are a bagful of sins in the Bible, and even in the sexual arena it's not only homosexuality that's wrong. Fornication (sex in the unmarried state) is wrong. Adultery (sex whilst in a marriage with another party) is wrong. God defines right and wrong in His Word the Bible, and oneday we will all have to stand before Almighty God and be judged based on what we did with His Son, Jesus Christ. ... This country deems sex before marriage as OK, but the Bible doesn't. No one is going to prison because of adultery, but it's a terrible sin in God's eyes. ....The reality and key to this is that it doesn't matter what the government says, it doesn't matter what my next door neighbour says, or the guys who sits next to me at work. The only thing that matters is how God views me, and the Bible makes it clear that we are all (me and you included) sinners and we have all (me and you included) come short of the perfect standard set by God (Romans 3:23). The result of that is we will be eternally seperated from God, in a place the Bible calls hell, unless we put our trust and faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour. ... Jesus paid the price for sin on the cross, it's a free gift. To receive it though, you've got to give up believing in what man says about you, and start believing what God says about you. That's what I did many years ago, I allowed God to cleanse me of my sin (including many sexual ones). I'm not perfect now, but I know right from wrong and I know that what God says about me is far more important than what Graham Stringer or anyone else says.

stejaskiJuly 18th 2008.

Shouldnt we also respect the right of those who do not believe that their lives are governed and judged by a fictional character?

The BibleJuly 18th 2008.

Lev 20:13 "If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death."

Bobby MJuly 18th 2008.

As far as I know, the taxes of myself and many tens of thousands of other gay men and women go towards paying the salaries of this woman and countless others who think that religion should be held in higher esteem than the law. It shouldn't. She's paid to do a job and if she feels she can't do it, she should leave. Given that homosexuality is described in the Bible as "abhorrent", and so is the eating of shellfish, would she refuse to preside over a ceremony where a prawn cocktail is the starter at the wedding breakfast? I can't see the difference - there isn't one according to the Bible. Why are people who are deluded into following a religion so selective about what they chose to believe, and why is a tribunal backing this?

Bobby MJuly 18th 2008.

Anon - what are your thoughts on eating shellfish which, like homosexuality, is described as "abhorrent" in the Bible? I'm not trying to make light of what you have said but how can one "sin" be excused with the passage of time but another not, when the Bible gives them equal condemnation? I think anyone who thinks that homosexuality is a sin because it says so in the Bible certainly shouldn't be helping themselves to a dish of moules when they feel like it.

JHCJuly 18th 2008.

Arni that is a brilliant desconstruction of religion and religious belief. I want to buy you a drink

Hallelujah!July 18th 2008.

What a delight it is to read this article from Graham Stringer.Perhaps Graham might also consider looking into Scientology and considering if they really should have a shop (the are not a religion) on Deansgate.

pipsqueakJuly 18th 2008.

I understand that everybody has the right to their own opinion and if she believes, due to her interpretation of the bible, that homosexuality is a sin then I suppose that's up to her, but not when it affects her ability to do her job in a public office within a country where civil partnerships are legal. That would be like a judge who believed in capital punishment refusing to hand out the correct sentence even though it was what the law dictated. Or a nurse refusing to touch a male patient because it was against her religion. Those people rightly wouldn't be allowed to keep their jobs and neither should she if she can't perform the tasks required by hers. And I don't see how it makes any difference whether she was a registrar before civil partnerships became legal or not. Homosexuality used to be listed as a mental disorder by the British government - but when the law changed, practising mental health professionals weren't allowed to continue prescribing lobotomies and aversion therapies to gay people just because they still agreed with the old law. Similarly, when the age of consent for gay men was equalised in the 1990's, a doctor would not have been allowed to refuse to provide condoms to a 16 year old on grounds of opinion, whether they had been practising before the law changed or not. I don't see then, why this woman should have her discriminatory opinions supported because they are 'backed up' by religion. Religion is, afterall, just another form of opinion, and i'm certainly not allowed to let my personal opinions affect the way I do my job. I'm a teacher - imagine if I was allowed to refuse to teach certain children just because i might not agree with their beliefs, or because they had gay parents, or because of any other opinion I might hold. I'd be out on my arse! I can't see why she shouldn't be.

adrienJuly 18th 2008.

The bible in my opinion is a collection of stories passed down through generations as a moral guide in the absence of any other structured and just law. It is a book of bones, we put the flesh on those bones through our own interpretations of what we read. Anyone who has taken part in a critic of a book, play or song will all hear, read and see something different and it will mean that there will be some commonality but unavoidable disagreement. Take the food laws in the old testiment for example, Pork, bottom feeders, sea food, mixing meat and dairy, these were practicle advice and about not poisioning yourself and your family. Lets not forget the key thing here and that is we are all alledgedly made in god's image, I'm sure the passage doesn't refer to how we look. and if we are to believe fully the story of genises and that we all come from Adam and Eve, then we're all related and there has to be something wrong about that.

ChampionJuly 18th 2008.

Our laws are based on reason, fairness and common sense not the bible. If you want to live in a medieval theocracy there are plenty out there but I doubt you'd last very long

Andy LJuly 18th 2008.

Wont this just open the floogates for more professions with religious zealots to refuse a service to gay people. What if i was taken to a casualty department and my life depended on a doctor that refused to treat me because i am a gay man. What if i died from this action. Wouldnt the old addage " Gays they deserve what they get" , really become a way of life. Doesnt the Bible preach love on another , or is it now " love one another , as long as your not gay"

Jo77July 18th 2008.

the bible has been re-written so many times over the years by so many bigoted monarchs to express there own opinions, it really cannot be referenced in any credible argument as the true word of 'god'. to say god hates gays as it says so in the bible is just narrow minded.

AdrienJuly 18th 2008.

If I were to interpret your comments literally Anon. Could it not be said that the 2 people who are getting married (civil partnership is a legal and binding contract between 2 people, before god - who is with us all, at all times) then surely they are trying to address the sin of fornication. The fact that the registrar refused to perform this ceremony is condeming them to hell - I thought that was god's decision to make not mine or yours.

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