The legal threat to our spiritual tradition

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali writes

Lord Justice Laws’s judgment on the Gary McFarlane case in the Court of Appeal – that legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious ground cannot be justified – has driven a coach and horses through the ancient association of the Christian faith with the constitutional and legal basis of British society.

Everything from the Coronation Oath onwards suggests that there is an inextricable link between the Judaeo-Christian tradition of the Bible and the institutions, the values and the virtues of British society. If this judgment is allowed to stand, the aggressive secularists will have had their way.

It also raises a number of fundamental questions to which answers need to be provided. Will there be, once again, a religious bar to holding office? We have already had a rash of cases involving magistrates unable to serve on the bench because of their Christian beliefs, registrars losing their jobs because they cannot, in conscience, officiate at civil partnerships, paediatricians unable to serve on adoption panels… Will this trickle gradually become a flood, so that rather than conforming to the Church of England, the new discrimination tests will involve conforming to the secular religion as promoted by Lord Justice Laws?

Laws mentions the case of the civil registrar Lillian Ladele – who objected on religious grounds to “gay marriage” and refused to conduct ceremonies – as a precedent for his judgment, and believes that the issues in this case are identical to the ones in the other. In that judgment, the court treated the Christian faith and its tenets as on a par with mere prejudice or bigotry. It attempted to distinguish belief from practice and to identify what is “core belief ” from Christian moral teaching. This is not a distinction that those who believe in biblical, historic Christianity would recognise.

Such is Lord Justice Laws’s enthusiasm for a secular Britain that he charges on with some even more breathtaking assertions. He claims that religious faith is subjective, irrational and incommunicable. There may be some faiths like that, but the Christian faith is not one of them. It is committed to a proper understanding of how the world is and who we are, but also to what makes for a better world and better people.

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