Monday, 14 March 2011

Christian group launches petition against equality legislation

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The CCFON petition as it appears online
It's been a little quiet here for the past few days, as we've been preoccupied with moving office. But now I'm installed in my new spot in South East London, how about we get things started again with an update on the now tiringly-familiar story surrounding claims by conservative Christian groups that Christians are being persecuted as a result of equalities legislation. Now, following the High Court decision concerning Owen and Eunice Johns, the Derby couple deemed unsuitable as foster carers on account of their views on homosexuality, one of those groups, Christian Concern For Our Nation (CCFON), has launched what it's calling an "Equalities and Conscience Petition", with the aim of encouraging the government to change the current legislation. Here's the text introducing the petition:
"Recent Equalities legislation and its interpretation in the courts has led to several individuals who hold to mainstream Christian teaching being barred from different areas of public life and employment, running counter to our country’s long heritage of Freedom of Conscience, and creating a serious obstacle to the Christian community's full and active involvement in the Big Society initiative.

We call on the Prime Minister to act decisively to address this situation, securing the change necessary to ensure that the law provides a basis for widespread involvement in serving society whilst properly upholding the dignity of every individual, including those who seek to live with integrity to Christian conscience and teaching."
Given that, as I reported in my last post, David Cameron recently expressed his support for the High Court ruling in the Johns case, and said that "Christians should be tolerant and welcoming and broad minded", it seems unlikely that the CCFON petition will come to anything. And the campaign has attracted criticism from liberal Christians, with the think tank Ekklesia joining the British Humanist Association in rejecting the notion of anti-Christian persecution. Responding to the petition, Ekklesia's co-director, Simon Barrow, said:
"The judgement in the recent Johns foster case was very clear. It described claims of anti-religious discrimination as a 'travesty of the reality' and 'wrong as to the factual premises on which they are based.' The judges added that 'No one is seeking to de-legitimise Christianity or any other faith or belief. ... No one is seeking to give Christians, Jews or Muslims or, indeed, peoples of any faith, a second class status. On the contrary, it is fundamental to our law, to our polity and to our way of life, that everyone is equal.'
It is this equality which some vociferous campaign groups are disputing. They want a privileged status in law for their own particular prejudices, using arguments which many other Christians find misplaced, misguided and offensive. Far from ‘defending Christianity’, petitions like this bring it into disrepute."
It would seem that this issue is set to run and run, although you would hope that, considering how consistent judges have been in rejecting the conservative Christian claims in these cases, groups like the Christian Legal Centre, the Christian Institute and CCFON might finally realise the equality legislation is here to stay. As always, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts – I was particularly struck by the claim  in the petition that "individuals who hold to mainstream Christian teaching being barred from different areas of public life". Is this really the case? Can CCFON and the CLC really be seen to represent mainstream Christianity?
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