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Judges have not "likened Christians to bigots"

4 May 2010

Lord Justice Laws has hit back at claims made by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey that judges are biased against Christians.

Giving judgment at the Court of Appeal in a case involving Christian counsellor Gary McFarlane, Laws LJ said Lord Carey’s observations were “misplaced”.

The lord justice’s description of religious faith as “necessarily subjective, being incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence” was attacked as “alarming” by the Christian Legal Centre.

“The judges have never, so far as I know, sought to equate the condemnation by some Christians of homosexuality on religious grounds with homophobia, or to regard that position as ‘disreputable’,” Laws LJ said.

“Nor have they likened Christians to bigots. They administer the law in accordance with the judicial oath: without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”

Lord Justice Laws said that Lord Carey’s “mistaken suggestions” may have arisen from a misunderstanding as to the meaning attributed by the law to the idea of discrimination.

The lord justice said that under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, the law forbade discriminatory conduct, not by reference to motives but by reference to outcome.

“Accordingly the proposition that if conduct is accepted as discriminatory it thereby falls to be condemned as disreputable or bigoted is a non sequitur. But it is the premise of Lord Carey’s position.”

Laws LJ said that “in the eye of everyone save the believer religious faith is necessarily subjective, being incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence”.

He went on: “It may of course be true; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society. Therefore it lies soley in the heart of the believer, who is alone bound by it. No one else is or can be so bound, unless by his own free choice he accepts its claims.

“The promulgation of law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot therefore be justified. It is irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective. But it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary. We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs.”

The court heard that Relate dismissed McFarlane after he refused to counsel same- sex couples on sexual matters, contrary to the organisation’s equal opportunities policy which he had signed.

McFarlane claimed that he was discriminated against because of his religion or beliefs.

Laws LJ relied on the Court of Appeal ruling in Islington v Ladele [2009] EWCA Civ 1357, where a claim of discrimination by a Christian registrar who refused to perform civil partnership ceremonies was rejected.

He dismissed McFarlane’s application for permission to appeal against the decision of the EAT.

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said the notion that the Bible’s teaching was “necessarily subjective” was “highly contentious to say the least”.

She went on: “To put the reasonably held beliefs of Christians into such a category is alarming and in effect seeks to rule out Christian principles of morality from the public square.

“Mr McFarlane simply wanted his religious beliefs to be accommodated by his employer, which in the specific facts of the case was not unreasonable.

“It seems that a religious bar to office has been created, whereby a Christian who wishes to act on their Christian beliefs on marriage will no longer be able to work in a great number of environments.”

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