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Debate on freedom of conscience and equality before the law accelerates

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu, have written to the Prime Minister saying that "rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well-meaning". They are opposed to Government legislation which will not exempt Catholic adoption agencies from allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. Apparently the church is not saying that gay couples be prevented from adopting, only that it wishes not to participate in arranging such adoptions.

The Government claims the principle of equality before the law. The Catholic and Anglican churches claim the right to freedom of conscience.

According to its critics, this is yet another offensive action by a bullying, PC government hostile to Christianity and tolerant only of its own intolerance. In contrast, a writer who identifies himself as gay suggests that "regardless of our religious (or non-religious) views, we can all agree that the public sphere should be secular and that the law is upheld even where it runs counter to our own private personal beliefs."

The "opt-out" provision for Catholic agencies seems controversial to me. Introducing opt-outs may offend equality before the law and may run the risk of allowing other opt-outs, such as sharia law, in future. The real problem is introducing the law in the first place. Freedom of conscience is but one freedom that is bound to clash with a goverment that drafts laws on every hypothetical. Why are these people always making laws? Is it an obsession with them?

Update: Back from London, David observed on the phone that the United Kingdom is a Christian country officially. This would seem to raise the question: Can the government of a country that is Christian by law ignore Christian concerns?

To return to the positive, there is a lively discussion going on in Telegraph letters here.

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