16 January 2013

Christians denied the right to trample on the rights of others

Following the last post on the Gillard government’s craven decision to let religious groups continue discriminating against ‘sinners’, at least the European Court of Human Rights recognises that a person’s religious beliefs do not grant her license to infringe the rights of others. The Court has thrown out three of four cases brought before it by Christians who claimed they had been discriminated against under UK law. From the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) report:

The Court found that the “balance” of rights had been made for the most part correctly in the UK, in effect confirming that UK law does not conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to manifestation of religion at work. However, the cases may have implications for many other countries under the European Convention on Human Rights and set precedent for possible future cases of alleged religious discrimination across Europe.

IHEU president Sonja Eggerickx had this to say about the Court’s ruling, with my emphasis in bold:

We are heartened that the court recognised not only the crucial importance of freedom of belief in Europe, but also recognised the value of the harm principle, namely that we cannot claim in the name of our own beliefs a freedom to impinge on the legal rights of others. The court recognised that domestic legislation must find a balance between competing rights, and that religion cannot automatically be allowed to trump equality laws or the principled policies of organisations. There is a trend among some religious lobby groups to dress up the principled removal of religious privilege as a form of persecution, and this trend is not unique to the UK.

The British Humanist Association’s Andrew Copson commented:

All reasonable people will agree that there is scope in a secular democracy for reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs when that accommodation does not affect the rights and freedoms of others. But if believers try to invoke their beliefs as a defence for treating other people badly – denying them a service because they are gay or claiming a right to preach at them in a professional context – the law is right to prevent them. It’s not persecution of Christians; it’s the maintenance of a civilised society for all.

As Sonja Eggerickx noted, religious lobbyists deliberately confuse the removal of religious privilege with persecution. They think being denied special treatment is the same thing as being denied the right to practice their faith. But of course, this confusion is understandable when you subscribe to the idea that an all-powerful, supernatural being compels us all to live according to his arbitrary, and often immoral, commandments. When you believe this, then being told that you can’t discriminate against gays is tantamount to being told to disobey your sky-daddy.


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