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Religious liberty and the rights of others

Comment 11th August 2010

There has been a tendency by some people who have chosen a religious lifestyle to seek to opt out of affording respect for the rights and freedoms of certain others whilst demanding respect for their own rights and freedoms.

EU law does not allow the United Kingdom to deny groups rights because they deny the legitimacy of rights or liberty to others. However if we are to be consistent, people with non-religious philosophical beliefs (eg Humanists) should be allowed to opt of of those Christian laws that conflict with the sincerely, strongly held secular beliefs of a significant number of their adherents. Thus a Humanist would be entitled to avail themselves of active voluntary euthanasia and enter into a heterosexual civil partnership. Meanwhile Christian laws would only in future be applicable to those who have chosen a scripturally consistent, Christian lifestyle. Marriage should therefore be decoupled from faith.

Equally, if a Christian offering bed and breakfast wishes to decide on faith grounds who to admit, they should be allowed to do so subject to being theologically consistent. Thus whilst they may exclude homosexuals, they must also be required treat divorcees, adulterers, menstuating women and other unions that conflict with, say Leviticus, in exactly the same way, or risk prosecution for religious abuse. The abuse of religion to justify enforcing some beliefs whilst ignoring others that may be personally inconvenient to the holder of those beliefs has led to the moderate Christian majority being seen as complicit in discrimination and double standards, thus undermining Christian legitimacy.

Alternately there should be no special rights for those who have chosen a particular religious lifestyle and the law should apply equally to all and be faith neutral.

Why does this matter?

It is important to avoid the legal and social lacunae created by selective application of the law, favouring one set of values over another. Currently people of faith have special rights that are not similarly afforded to those of similar, but non-Christian or non-theological philosophical beliefs. As the diversity of beliefs which exist in a multicultural society grow, so will the resentment of those who are discriminated against, which will continue to undermine the cohesiveness of British society. There is also a problem with the selectivity of fundamental beliefs. Jesus condemned divorcees as adulterers, yet conservative evangelicals pretend that divorce is not inconsistent with a religious blessing, whilst homosexuality is. In fact, both are equally inconsistent.

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