Victory in Lords over Equality Bill
Church leaders have inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Government by overturning plans to force churches to hire gays and transsexuals. Peers voted 216 to 178 in favour of Lady O’Cathain’s amendment to keep the current law unchanged.
According to The Telegraph: 'Church leaders have inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Government by overturning plans to force members of the clergy to hire gays and transsexuals.'
Whilst the defeat in the Lords represent a victory over Harriet Harman's Equality Bill, Miss Harman could try to force the measure through the Commons – and risk losing the whole Bill. The other option would be to drop the proposal. This would however leave the UK at odds with an existing EU directive which is being forced upon member states.
The Telegraph article further comments: 'During a debate in the Lords, Baroness O'Cathain, who led the rebels, said: organisations should be free to choose their staff on whether they share those beliefs. “How would a rape crisis centre operate if it was forced to employ male counsellors. This is the state trying to tell people who the can and can’t employ.” She added that a Government minister had already given warning that the plans would lead to legal battles between churches and atheists, insisting that both sides “need to be lining up (their lawyers) by now.”
Read on in the Telegraph....
The Christian Institute reports (25/01/10):
The Government has lost in the House of Lords over its attempt in the Equality Bill to alter the law on who churches and other faith-based groups can employ.Peers voted 216 to 178 in favour of Lady O’Cathain’s amendment to keep the current law unchanged.Then in an extraordinary move the Government broke with House of Lords convention in a bid to damage Lady O’Cathain’s victory.But in two further votes Lady O’Cathain won by 195 votes to 174 and by 177 votes to 172.In the debate before the votes, the Government claimed its plans would simply ‘clarify’ the law. But churches said the plans would narrow important safeguards designed to help religious employers defend their ethos.The Government’s defeat means no change to the current law, which permits churches and other faith-based employers to protect their ethos by insisting staff live consistently with the religion’s doctrine on sexual behaviour.At this stage it is not known whether the Government will try to overturn the defeat in the Commons. Read full report.....
Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of CCFON said:
“This is a great day for religious liberty in the UK. We are thankful that the law has not been changed and the freedom of Churches to control their own affairs has not been restricted any further. The results show what can happen when Christians pray and take action. Let us be encouraged that even in an increasingly secular society, the voice of the Church can still be heard.”
Meanwhile Keith Porteous, the executive director of the National Secular Society has stated: ''The National Secular Society will once more complain to the European Commission. It is now quite likely the Government will be prosecuted in the European Court of Justice.'
The debate over the Equalities Bill clearly illustrates that the Christian faith is under attack by the European Union, the UK legislative trends and both atheist and gay lobby groups.
CARE who have been very active in the process and who supplied much of the information in the original article (below) comment as follows -
If the amendment had failed, churches would have had difficulty restricting employment only to people who adhere to the bible’s teaching on sexual ethics. The amendment keeps the current status quo and gives churches significantly more freedom to self determine how they are organised and by whom they are lead than the original Government proposal would have allowed.
To read a transcript of the whole debate click on image below
House of LordsChamber
Many Lords and Bishops spoke passionately and well on the issue, arguing for the importance that churches and faith based organisations have had to the development of this country and her fruits.
The Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend John Sentamu, told peers: "Noble Lords may believe that Roman Catholics should allow priests to be married; they may think that the Church of England should hurry up and allow women to become bishops; they may feel that many churches and other religious organisations are wrong on matters of sexual ethics. But if religious freedom means anything, it must mean that those are matters for the churches and other religious organisations to determine in accordance with their own convictions. They are not matters for the law to impose.”
Labour peer Lord Davies of Coity said: “It was my Christian faith that guided me into the trade union and political movements and that led me to be for the abolition of the capital punishment long before it was abolished in this country. My support for my Labour Government is second only to my Christian faith. The standards and morals of the Christian church makes this country a much better place, and I shall always oppose any measures that seek to marginalise the Christian church.”
Conservative peer Baroness O’Cathain said in the debate: “A belief in freedom of association demands that, even if we do not share the beliefs of an organisation, we must stand up for its liberty to choose its own leaders and representatives. That, in essence, is what this debate is all about.”
The Conservative Party front benches supported Baroness O'Cathain's ammendment.
Original article (below) published 16/01/10
The Equality Bill, which includes provisions that will make it impossible for many churches and other faith bodies to be confident of their freedom to live and operate according to their beliefs began its Committee Stage in the House of Lords earlier this week. But there is still time to press for an ammendment which would protect Christians and others on matters of conscience.
LEGAL experts have confirmed that, under the proposed law, churches would no longer be able to insist that employees, including priests, pastors and church leaders, live according the churches teaching about marriage and sexual conduct. It also seems certain that the Catholic Church will not be able to insist that successful priestly candidates are male and celibate.
The threat to religious liberty in the UK posed by the Equality Bill is highlighted by an important new report that comes out today. Produced by Christian public policy charity CARE, ‘A Little Bit Against Discrimination?,’ comes with a supporting foreword from the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
Lord Mackay who lives in the Highlands remains very active in bringing a Christian influence into the heart of the political and legislative process.
And in the House of Lords ealier this week he pointed out that Christian guest house operators and – for instance – both gay and Christian printers could be forced by the Equality legislation to take on printing contracts, the material content of which would violate their beliefs.
In the course of the debate Lord Mackay stated:
'Over the many years during which I have been involved in the law and the political process, people have often grumbled to me about aspects of our legal system. Until very recently I have always responded that in Britain, while there are undoubtedly matters about which people could be legitimately anxious, one could always be assured that the law would not require you to violate your conscience. In recent years, however, and certainly since 2006, this has been brought into question. If you do not act according to your beliefs, they are not worth very much. Belief is normally demonstrated as genuine by the way in which the person lives.'
‘Respecting conscience is not merely a matter of human rights; it is also a matter of prudence. One of the earliest speeches that I heard in this House was given by the former Lord Chief Justice, the late Lord Lane. He was a man of great experience in the law, and the criminal law in particular. In it, he spoke of the need to ensure that we should not denigrate conscience, because he recognised, rightly, that conscience plays a very important role in upholding the criminal law.
‘As Edmund Burke once said, the less you restrain a man from within, the more you are required to restrain him from without. Failure to respect conscience is a fundamental mistake on the part of any State that aspires to be Liberal Democratic in relation to human dignity and the maintenance of law and order,’
[The text of Lord Mackay's comments in the Lords' debate can be viewed here.]
The CARE report which includes Lord Mackay's foreward, explains that the offending part of the Bill - Schedule 9 - states that churches can only be free to insist that successful candidates must live the faith with respect to sexual ethics in relation to roles that are ‘wholly or mainly’ concerned with liturgy or ritual or promoting or explaining doctrine. Given that whilst Sundays might be concerned with liturgy, ritual and doctrine, the rest of the week is dominated by pastoral and other responsibilities, it is not clear how many churches will be able to continue with employed pastors if the Bill becomes law.
The plight of the Christian voluntary sector - certainly within the Evangelical and Catholic traditions - is also a major cause for concern. Given that no post within a Christian voluntary sector project, not even that of the CEO, would be concerned wholly or mainly with liturgy or ritual or promoting or explaining doctrine, certain Christian traditions could not be confident of their ability to insist that any member of staff lived the faith and in this context it becomes very unclear how such projects could continue.
Report author Dan Boucher explained:
‘When the sexual orientation goods and services legislation was presented in 2007 it was as unamendable secondary legislation. Parliament simply had the choice of voting for it or against it. There could be no fine tuning. This meant that those with concerns about the impact of the legislation on faith based adoption agencies had to decide whether they were prepared to vote all the legislation down because of this problem. During Committee Stage peers will be free to affirm the good in the sexual orientation goods and services legislation but amend it so that Catholic and other faith based adoption agencies can function.’
Anne Widdecombe silenced
At the Report Stage in the Commons last month, Ann Widdecombe engaged with this opportunity and tabled an amendment so that Catholic agencies could continue to operate as they have. Co-signed by a large number of MPs from across the parties, this was clearly an issue that the democratically elected house wanted to consider. In the event, however, the Government did not provide sufficient time and Miss Widdecombe was silenced. Happily the Lords now have the opportunity to engage properly with this important issue.
Indeed the point must be made that the House of Lords has a very special constitutional responsibility in its consideration of amendments because of the lack of scrutiny provided by MPs, resulting from the government’s unwillingness to give proper time. Over 100 amendments put down by the democratically elected people’s representatives were not discussed at all, let alone voted on. Of particular concern, this number included all 37 of the disability amendments tabled for debate – a strange way to handle a Bill that is supposed to promote fairness.
Make your views known
Lord Mackay spoke to Christians Together on his return from the House of Lords yesterday, and the former Lord Chancellor is encouraging all concerned Christians to make their views known by writing to members of the House of Lords.
Lord Mackay said that if the proposed amendment goes through, it should improve the law as it currently stands. He observed: 'The legislation should includes a general conscience clause which says that if the effect of the provision contained in the Bill is to make a person complicit in an action to which they have genuine conscientious objections then the person should not exempted from it.' When asked it was difficult to make such provision Lord Mackay stated: 'No, it’s perfectly simple: we did it in two world wars.'
He then went on to recommend that Christians should pray earnestly and write quickly using their own words, and at a personal level. He emphasised that letter-writers should make use of the information from CARE, Christian Institute, Christian Concern for our Nation, the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and other similar organisations but stressed also that proforma scripts are best avoided.
And to this end Nola Leach the Chief Executive of CARE has also written:
The Equality Bill proposes changing the law so that it will no longer be possible for churches to insist that successful job applicants live the faith in relation to sexual ethics. Not even church leaders are exempt, let alone anyone else.CARE, together with other Christian organisations and churches has highlighted this problem since the Bill was published in April 2009. However the Government has refused to accommodate faith – until, that is, yesterday - when they announced their intention to ask the House of Lords to amend the Bill.Whilst the Government's proposed amendment is undoubtedly an improvement, it means that, in practice, of the jobs that actually exist in church life, it will only really be possible to insist that ministers of religion practice the faith with respect to sexual ethics. Churches would not be able to require people serving in other ministry positions, such as youth work, to live the faith in relation to sexual ethics. Moreover, it is not at all clear how the Christian Voluntary Sector could continue, since it would not be possible to insist that any position, not even that of the CEO, should be filled by a Christian living the faith with respect to sexual ethics.Happily, Baroness O'Cathain has put down amendments that will prevent any narrowing of the freedom to insist that successful applicants must live the faith with respect to sexual ethics.
When should I write?
---------------Please write to some or all of the Peers listed below and ask them to vote for the Baroness O'Cathain's Schedule 9 amendments explaining that the vote will take place on 25 January.
Now. Time is of the essence. Baroness O'Cathain's Schedule 9 amendments, which address these problems will be voted on, on 25 January 2010.
To whom and how should I write?
In the first column you will have the name of the Peer or Bishop which is used in the address on the envelope of your letter. In the second column you will have the salutation.
|Title of Peer
The Rt Hon the Lord Mason of Barnsley
The Rt Hon the Lord Morris of Aberavon QC
The Rt Hon the Lord Pendry
The Lord Browne of Belmont
The Lord Morrow
The Baroness Paisley of St George's
The Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
The Lord Alton of Liverpool
The Rt Hon the Lord Ampthill CBE
The Lord Armstrong of Ilminster GCB, CVO
The Lord Ballyedmond OBE, JP
The Rt Hon the Baroness Boothroyd
The Lord Boston of Faversham QC
What should I write?
The following provides ideas about what to say. Please use your own words but feel free to repeat the phrase ‘live the faith with respect to sexual conduct.'
Option A: For those short of time!
If you have very little time, simply say:
a) You are very concerned that the Equality Bill (even allowing for the Government's new January 14 amendment) will prevent religious bodies organising themselves in accordance with their doctrine and
b) Ask them to support Baroness O'Cathain's Schedule 9 amendments, which address these problems, and will be voted on, on 25 January.
Option B: For those with a bit more time
If you have a bit more time, you might want to cover the following points:
1. The Bill currently proposes making it impossible for church and para-church bodies to insist that a successful applicant (including for the role of vicar, priest or pastor) must live the faith with respect to sexual ethics and would make it impossible for many church and para-church bodies, especially within the Evangelical and Catholic traditions, to function in accordance with their faith.
2. You are aware that at the 11th hour (Jan 14th) the government has tabled an amendment it will be asking the House of Lords to consider but that, of the posts that actually exist in church life, the amendment will only make it possible to insist that a successful applicant for the role of ‘minister of religion' lives the faith with respect to sexual ethics. It will not be possible to insist that successful applicants for other ministry positions e.g. youth workers, Christian Voluntary Sector providers, church press officers (who represent the Church to the world) etc, live the faith with respect to sexual ethics. Even with the amendment, therefore, the Bill will still throw many aspects of Church life into paralysis.
3. Argue that the best way forward is to maintain the current law – defined very recently in 2003.
4. Ask them to support Baroness O'Cathain's Schedule 9 amendments, which address these problems, and will be voted on, on 25 January.
If you can write to all of those listed that would be great but if you cannot why not pick a couple of names and write to them.
Where should I send my letter?
Lord [insert name]
The House of Lords
1. The title of the report, A Little Bit Against Discrimination? – with great emphasis on the question mark - is taken from Harriet Harman’s somewhat enigmatic explanation in 2007 that the government could not make provision for Catholic adoption agencies by changing its sexual orientation goods and services legislation because, one ‘cannot be a little bit against discrimination.’
2. There is now an on-line petition to the Goverment as a facility for all concerned parties to make their views known. The appeal has taken the name of Harry Hammond who was harrassed and convicted for taking a stand against homosexuality.