Friday, March 09, 2007
Can Religious Freedom Survive Gay Liberation?
You may already have heard that the British Parliament voted earlier this year to require all adoption agencies, including Catholic agencies, to place children with homosexual couples if requested.
Now an influential committee of the British Parliament is recommending that Britain take the next logical step. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, made up of 12 MPs and Lords, released a report on Feb. 26 that advocates drastic further increases in state supervision of religious organizations and religious schools.
Sections 44 of the report concedes that religious people may be left free in the privacy of their own minds to disapprove of Britain's new morality.
Nobody is required by the Regulations not to have beliefs about the morality of different sexual orientations, or its compatibility with the tenets of one's religion, or punished or subjected to any other disadvantage for having such beliefs.
In their public actions, however, religious people must be compelled despite their disapproval to comply
with the new morality.
In our view, the prohibitions on discrimination in the Regulations limit the manifestation of those religious beliefs and that limitation is justifiable in a democratic society for the protection of the right of gay people not to be discriminated against in the provision of goods, facilities and services. ... [T]here would be a compatibility problem if the Regulations provided for a wider exemption which expressly exempted religious bodies from the obligation not to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. ... An exemption to protect the absolute right of freedom of conscience and religion would therefore be likely to be justifiable, but not an exemption to protect the right to manifest one's conscience or religious belief, which, as we have sought to explain above, is capable of justified limitation and in our view can be justifiably limited in order to protect gay people from discrimination.
And Section 67 of the report argues that religious schools should be required to amend their curriculum so as to avoid casting doubts on the moral legitimacy of homosexuality. It explicitly rejects the claim that religious liberty includes the right to teach religious doctrines on matters of marriage and sexuality.
We do not consider that the right to freedom of conscience and religion requires the school curriculum to be exempted from the scope of the sexual orientation regulations. In our view the Regulations prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination should clearly apply to the curriculum, so that homosexual pupils are not subjected to teaching, as part of the religious education or other curriculum, that their sexual orientation is sinful or morally wrong. Applying the Regulations to the curriculum would not prevent pupils from being taught as part of their religious education the fact that certain religions view homosexuality as sinful. In our view there is an important difference between this factual information being imparted in a descriptive way as part of a wide-ranging syllabus about different religions, and a curriculum which teaches a particular religion's doctrinal beliefs as if they were objectively true. The latter is likely to lead to unjustifiable discrimination against homosexual pupils.
There is a widespread view that gay liberation is a movement toward greater freedom. Up to a point, that was true. That point, however, is now receding in the background. The movement for gay equality has rapidly evolved into movement to restrict personal freedoms, including freedoms of religion and conscience. The British example is not a special case. What is being done there today will be demanded here tomorrow.
One more footnote.
As a practical matter, governments do not always enforce regulations - and they certainly do not always enforce them consistently. It will be very interesting to know whether these regulations, if adopted, will be enforced equally upon Christian and Islamic schools. Any guesses?
Update: Andrew Stuttaford raises an excellent point on the Corner.
The more interesting question however is the extent to which religious belief should be privileged above all others. You can, quite legitimately, question the range and definition of anti-discrimination laws, but once a democracy has put those laws in place, I can think of no particular reason why some people should be exempted from that law, simply on the grounds of religion. To do so is to say that religious belief is somehow more deserving of special protection than other (perhaps no less deeply held) ideologies, an idea that, however well-intentioned, is irrational at best, dangerous at worse.
And of course he is right! When general laws are passed, they must apply to all.
That is precisely why the gay rights movement is inherently an illiberal one. When you decide to extend your nondiscrimination principles to behavior condemned by your society's majority religion, you are embarking on a course that will sooner or later require the state to police, control, and punish adherents of that religion.
That was (or should have been obvious) from the start. And it's the reason for the question posed in the title of this post - a question Andrew dismisses with uncharacteristic glibness.
03/09 11:09 AM