Monday October 4, 2010

Expert: Religious Freedom Eroding in Britain in the Wake of Equalities Laws and Terrorist Threat

By Hilary White

DUBLIN, October 4, 2010 ( – New “equality” legislation combined with the Northern Irish “Troubles” and Islamic terrorist bombings in New York and London have created an atmosphere in Britain in which religion in general is held in suspicion, said an expert on religious discrimination law late last month in Dublin. British barrister Neil Addison told the Iona Institute’s conference on religious freedom that in Britain and elsewhere, the attitude is taking hold that religion must not in any way be given expression in public or working life

Following on Pope Benedict XVI’s speech in Westminster Hall, during which he called for governments to respect the principles of “religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association,” Addison said, “Whether government and courts will allow religious organisations this level of freedom remains an open question but the omens are not good.”

The annual Dublin conference was packed this year, with about 200 being warned of the erosion of religious freedom in the West in the name of “equality.”

Equality and anti-harassment laws, Addison said, are being used with increasing regularity against religious believers in the UK. “Religion is often subconsciously seen in Britain as not merely a harmless eccentricity but as a potentially dangerous eccentricity,” he said.

“How the future will develop for religious freedom in the UK in the future is difficult to tell. We are constantly being told that we are a secular society and at the same time that we are a multi-faith society and the conflict between those two positions has not yet been truly faced up to, let alone resolved.”

Addison quoted Catholic Archbishop Peter Smith, who warned that in Britain, “religion is regarded as a legally permissible private eccentricity; allowable behind closed doors once a week, but not in any way to be given expression in public or working life”

The September 24th conference also highlighted recent statements by Irish politicians that religion shouldn’t be allowed to “cloud” their judgment on political matters and that the Catholic Church should not be allowed to “intrude” on “matters of state” such as homosexual civil unions, abortion or medical research.

The Irish Parliament recently passed a bill creating homosexual civil unions in which calls for a clause allowing conscientious objection were refused. The legislation was passed without a vote by the Dáil (Commons) on 1 July 2010 and was passed by the Senate on 8 July 2010 by a vote of 48-4. It provides for a possible six month prison term and up to €2000 in fines for non-compliance by conscientious objectors such as marriage registrars or those private citizens who refuse to rent facilities to homosexual “partners.”

At the conference, Professor Roger Trigg, Emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Warwick and a senior research fellow in the University of Oxford Faculty of Theology, attacked as “nonsense” the idea that religious freedom is at odds with human rights. Trigg said that religious freedom is itself a human right that goes to the “heart of what it is to be human.”

Trigg said that “equality” cannot be allowed to trump freedom of conscience and religion every time these rights clash, and that when they do clash, “the solution is not for one to override the other but for ‘reasonable accommodation’ of both.”

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