Posted by Tim on February 13th, 2012
Last week Britain became a little more secular. Not in a great cataclysmic way as the conservative press is proclaiming, but subtly, and in a way not unforeseen, as two court decisions were made which in themselves may have little impact but which are indicators of a long-term trend and set a precedent.
Last August we considered the case of a couple of Christian bed-and-breakfast owners who refused to make a double room available to a gay couple. On Friday the court of appeal ruled that they had discriminated against the gay couple despite their appeal that they weren’t specifically discriminating against gay people as their policy applied to all unmarried people irrespective of their sexual choices. And the court was right: they did indeed break the law. In the process of coming to this conclusion, ironically, the court is discriminating against the Christians. It’s now official: gay rights trump Christian rights.
In another case heard on the same day, an atheist councillor took his local town council to court over their practice of holding prayers at the start of the meeting. He argued that it infringed his human rights by forcing a religious activity on him. Councils all over the country do this, as does the Westminster parliament, so it is not an uncommon practice. The court ruled, interestingly (though a lot of pundits have missed this point) that his human rights weren’t infringed as he had the opportunity to absent himself during the proceedings, but that councils do not have the authority under the Local Government Act to hold prayers as part of their council meetings. They are able to hold them outside the meeting though.
It certainly feels like these decisions, and several others like them in recent years, are undermining the traditional role of Christianity at the heart of Britain’s values, despite Prime Minister David Cameron recently asserting that Britain is a ‘Christian nation’. Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who has become significantly more vocal in his ‘retirement’ than he was in office, comments: There are deep forces at work in Western society, hollowing out the values of Christianity and driving them to the margins. It does at least seem that an aggressive secularist agenda is making steady progress.
The knee-jerk reaction is for the church to condemn both these decisions, though why in a democracy we should want the freedom to discriminate against others, or to force our prayers on people of other or no faith, needs to be considered carefully. It would seem that our appropriate response to this situation is not to lament the fact that a small but vocal minority are no longer able to force their views and practices on the millions of British citizens who are now generally atheistic, only nominally Christian or hold to other faiths.
A far more appropriate response would be to set about in earnest increasing the number of Christians so that our views become the dominant perspective in this country once again. We should not be writing letters to The Times in protest. We should be getting out into the communities around us and proclaiming Jesus. Only when we comprise the majority will it be appropriate for us to expect legislation in this country to reflect our views.
Our verdict: Lions 2, Christians 0 (see Persecution on its way)