The law courts are becoming the main arena where morality is discussed. It is regrettable because the law is a blunt instrument, which creates precedents and, therefore generalises a principle on the basis of single cases. It is also regrettable because morality is always in development and cannot be decided once and for all.
The latest is a Christian couple who were turned down by the Council for their beliefs about homosexuality. The couple were foster carers in the past and told the social worker that they could not tell a child homosexuality was an acceptable lifestyle.
The High Court did not find that they had been discriminated against. According to The Guardian, the judges ruled that that one set of beliefs could not take precedence in a pluralist society. Except, this is exactly what happened. By denying the freedom of conscience to the foster carers, the state has imposed a particular interpretation of rights.
I do not believe homosexuality is wrong in any way. The belief that homosexuality is wrong derives from view of human nature I do not share, as I argued previously. However, in this case homosexual children were not being denied a service and were not being discriminated against. By contrast, the courts told the foster carers that they couldn't say what they believed. Of course there are limits to everyone’s freedom of conscience, but primarily is when that freedom is translated into discriminatory action. That’s why it’s important to distinguish ‘protection from discrimination’ (action) from ‘freedom of conscience’ (thought).
When the Christian B&B owners turned down the gay couple, they discriminated against the couple in the delivery of a commercial activity. They not only sought to impose their view of things on their customers, but were also responsible for a specific course of action. For more, see my post.
It is important to distinguish action from thought. It is true that homosexuals have been persecuted on the basis of moral bigotry. It is also true that Jews have been persecuted for not believing in Christ. Today, in this country, this is a crime. If Christians, who believe homosexuality to be wrong, are considered homophobic, are Christians, who believe Jews are not saved, anti-Semitic?
Foster parents will have views and habits that might not tick all the ‘state’s boxes’. If the state is so troubled by that, it should stop all fostering and use machines. Children will hear different views and see different behaviours at home, at school, in the street and on TV. Who knows? They might even read some books and decide to think for themselves. I didn’t grow up liberal by being ‘protected’ from illiberal views. Liberalism relies on the open exchange of views and reciprocal respect. It requires these views not be imposed. It requires freedom, even the freedom to be ‘wrong’.
Europe has a troubled history with religion so European (which includes British) courts keep on missing the point and seek that illiberal chimera of a neutral secular society, which would effectively exclude religious people. Sexism, homophobia, racism etc. have been going on for a long time with and without religion. The way forward is to avoid the courts and have an honest and open discussion. As a liberal, I do not want people’s views and beliefs to be sanitised. I cherish disagreement and debate. Above all, I seek agreement on boundaries that will ensure respect and peaceful living for all.