Michael Kelly: Court's decision is an insult to Christian beliefs

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A couple barred from fostering because of their views about homosexuality have a right to equality

THERE was a time when "discriminating" was a compliment. A discriminating person was one with good taste and judgment. Now it is a term solely of abuse. And yet we discriminate all the time. We choose which restaurants to patronise instead of working our way through an alphabetical list. We interview applicants for jobs rather than draw a name out of a hat. Sports and social clubs can refuse entry to those regarded as unsuitable. Football teams are chosen on the basis of ability. And some universities still consider a history of good academic performance a prerequisite to entry.

But in the dash to political correctness, driven mainly by European law, the distinction between just and unjust discrimination has been lost. We have had two depressing examples of this in the past few days.

The more trivial, but nonetheless damaging, judicial decision was the European Court of Justice ruling against insurance companies offering cheaper car cover to women. This conclusion did not consider it relevant to give any weight to the facts - in particular that women are lower-risk drivers. This just discrimination is now illegal, meaning women drivers will be unjustly discriminated against by having to pay higher premiums. The court will now move on to impose a further financial burden on older drivers, who also generate fewer and cheaper insurance claims.

But that is merely money. The other decision by an English court - that Christians with traditional views on sexual ethics are unsuitable as foster carers - strikes at the traditional view that freedom of thought and speech are fundamental to our democracy. Eunice and Owen Johns wanted to resume their role as foster parents. Their application was rejected by Derby City Council, according to the couple, on the grounds that they have "moral opinions (against homosexuality] based on our faith". The court agreed with the council that the couple could be excluded from fostering under equality law because of their Christian beliefs.

The court was downright insulting to traditional Christians and their beliefs. In their judgment, the judges stated that if children are placed with parents who have traditional Christian views, like the Johns, there may well be a conflict with the local authority's duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked-after children; that there is a tension between the equality provisions concerning religious discrimination and those concerning sexual orientation. But as regards fostering, the equality provisions on sexual orientation should take precedence. This is only an interpretation, because the relevant legislation does not contain a hierarchy of rights. It simply states them.In the most controversial part of the judgment, it was ruled that a local authority can require positive attitudes to be demonstrated towards homosexuality. It is not sufficient to be silent on the matter. If a situation arises, foster parents must actively promote it to the young children in their care. This seems in total contradiction to the court's view that there is no religious discrimination against the Johns because they were being excluded from fostering due to their moral views on sexual ethics and not their Christian beliefs.

Believers in any faith laugh out loud at this attempt to distinguish between two inseparable things. They are not laughing at the court's statement that Christian beliefs on sexual ethics may be "inimical" to children, or at the submission of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that children risk being "infected" by Christian moral beliefs. What we have here is a judgment that unjustly discriminates against Christianity and which puts a law above freedom of conscience. And it catches Judaism and Islam, both of which take even more extreme views on homosexuality, in the same net.

It also hurts children. The pool of potential foster parents is shallow enough. Indeed, one of the arguments put forward in Holyrood when it was discussing the right of homosexual couples to foster and adopt was that it would increase the number of people willing to release kids from the desperation of institutional care. In its consultation over this measure, a survey found that nearly 90 per cent of Scots were doubtful about homosexual adoption. Despite this demonstration of the settled will of the people, Holyrood forced the measure through.

What percentage of Scots would think that Christians make bad parents? People who live by a strong set of Christian beliefs are, on the whole, likely to make good foster parents. They are required to be charitable, to treat others as they would themselves be treated and to turn the other cheek. In fact, the New Testament would seem to me to be an ideal guidebook for carers - fostering for dummies.

The social climate has developed to a position where respecting homosexuality is seen to be the touchstone of a civilised society. The gay lobby has succeeded in eliminating unfair and vicious anti-gay attitudes and practices prevalent for decades - good. It has also elevated sexual orientation to a point where it, and only it, seems to define an individual. It is not as important as that.

It is time for balance to be struck. Not by returning to the obnoxious anti-homosexuality of the past, but by recognising that believers also have a right to equality. It is one thing to demand as clear a separation between Church and State as is possible in a country whose head of state is also head of the established church.It is quite another for believers to be discriminated against because of sincerely held moderate views.

The churches will find little support among politicians. Those at Westminster who were falling over themselves last week to vote against the European ruling on votes for prisoners have been unanimously silent on this issue. But unless these thought police are stopped in their tracks, the next decision will be to dictate what moral framework natural parents may teach their children.

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