18th September 2007
A High Court Judge in the Belfast High Court has quashed part of the Northern Ireland SORs relating to harassment. The judgment was handed down on 11th September. The case was brought by the Christian Institute and a number of churches. Please find below the Christian Institute’s analysis of how the judgment will affect the implementation of the SORs in Great Britain.
We give thanks to God for the result in this case, for the expertise of the lawyers in running the case and for the courage of the Christian Institute and others in taking the case on.
How the High Court ruling on the SORs affects Great Britain
The harassment laws which were scrapped by the judge in Northern Ireland are not present in the regulations which apply to Great Britain. However, the Government has been floating the idea of introducing these kind of laws for Great Britain in its forthcoming Single Equality Bill.
Church groups, including the Church of England, have expressed concerns that such laws could be used to sue Christians who express their religious beliefs on sexual ethics while providing a good, facility or service.
Mr Justice Weatherup said that the harassment laws in the Northern Ireland sexual orientation regulations had an extended reach "beyond that of discrimination and statutory harassment" (paragraph 43 of his judgment). These comments will be very helpful in opposing such laws in Great Britain.
In response to the High Court ruling Stonewall, Britain's leading homosexual lobby group, said it is not convinced that harassment laws are needed.
The Government had argued that the manifestation of religious belief could never have been affected by the regulations. The judge disagreed. He ruled that Christians can make use of Article 9 rights to religious liberty when defending themselves against actions brought under the regulations. He said the belief that the practice of homosexuality is sinful is a belief worthy of recognition. Moreover this belief is a long established part of orthodox Christian belief and of the world’s major religions. Having these statements in English law could be extremely helpful when defending religious liberty in the future.
Mr Justice Weatherup also said County Courts should consider a Canadian case which established the principle that Christians should not be required to provide a good, facility or service which contradicts their core religious beliefs. Again, we believe this is directly relevant to the Great Britain regulations.
The judge also ruled that the regulations do not apply to the school curriculum. The wording of the Great Britain regulations is identical on this point and we are confident that there is a direct read-across. This means homosexual campaigners cannot claim that the regulations require the promotion of homosexuality in school lessons.
Lastly, the judge ruled that the regulations do not apply to every action carried out by a faith group which receives some public funding, only the specific activity for which the group receives the money.
Again, the wording on this point is identical in the Great Britain regulations and we are confident that the judge's ruling on this matter will apply to faith groups in England, Wales and Scotland.