In the past decade, Britain, and indeed much of Europe, has been on a seemingly never-ending journey toward “equality.” “Equality is not negotiable. It is an absolute,” the supporters have declared, as more and more areas of life have been subjected to the ever-increasing grasp of “equality” legislation. Beginning with a small clause in the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997, the drive towards non-discrimination has grown exponentially in recent years, with many wondering where it will all end. First employment, then the provision of goods and services, and recently a public-sector requirement to actively promote “equality” and prevent “discrimination.”
And who have been the people discriminated against and marginalized in this quest for “equality”? The answer has undoubtedly been Christians.
But why have Christians been the ones to suffer at the hands of non-discrimination laws? Surely “Britain is a Christian country,” as Prime Minister David Cameron recently stated. Surely “people should be proud of their Christianity and able to express it as they wish,” as former Prime Minister Tony Blair once remarked.
The reason that Christians are not tolerated in Britain today is because, despite the occasional lofty claim by a political leader, what is enacted by parliament and then interpreted by the judiciary is altogether different. In reality, Christians are told that because we all live in a supposedly modern and tolerant society, any views that are considered intolerant can no longer be tolerated.
Aside from being self-evidently absurd, this attitude continues to have a profound effect on the lives of many religious believers. In the name of tolerance and non-discrimination, Christians have been dismissed from work, investigated by the police, and had their charitable organizations shut down.
And rather than being seen as the intolerance that it is, Christians are frequently portrayed as either attempting to be “above the law” or looking for “loopholes” in the law. However, instead of legal loopholes and complicated exemptions, a simple bit of common sense and tolerance (in the true sense of the word) in the legal system would certainly go a long way.
For example, take the case of Lillian Ladele, the Islington registrar forced to resign for conscientiously objecting from performing same-sex civil partnerships. Her case was rejected by the Supreme Court in the U.K. and is now being argued before the European Court of Human Rights. Could she have been accommodated by her employer? The overwhelming evidence was that a simple rotation system would have allowed her to continue to work without the slightest problem to her employer or any same-sex couples seeking a civil partnership.
Or take Britain’s ill-fated Catholic adoption agencies. In existence for more than a century and widely recognized as being some of the best in the country, the agencies have all but closed or been forced to remove their Christian ethos. Why? Because they conscientiously objected from placing children with same-sex couples. The remarkably few couples that would have been affected by the policy could easily have accessed another agency. But apparently that wasn’t the point. The agencies had to fall in line or close down. Once again, there was no tolerance or common sense shown to the agencies, and it is hard to see how anyone has benefitted from losing their dedicated services.
The case of Peter and Hazelmary Bull has also become widely known because of how blatant the discriminatory treatment was against them. Their case provides one of those “if it could happen to them, it could easily happen to me” moments which resonate with the public. The couple was successfully sued for upholding their policy in their private guest house about not renting single rooms to unmarried couples—in this case, a same-sex couple.
Examples of such intolerance against Christians abound and have led the European Court of Human Rights to accept four U.K. religious freedom cases on the same day, as well as a recent parliamentary inquiry. While it is encouraging that the European Court has decided to engage with the myriad of problems caused by Britain’s non-discrimination laws, the suggested solution is not that difficult to understand or implement. While the legal phrase is known as “reasonable accommodation,” what this means, in reality, is simply common sense.
Do Christians want to be above the law? They most certainly do not. But that does not mean that the law has to operate like a blunt instrument enforcing a new political orthodoxy and a new “tyranny of the majority.” A simple bit of common sense and real tolerance would go a long way toward ensuring true respect for all, including Christians.