NewsThu Mar 22, 2007 - 12:15 pm EST
UK Regulations Barring Religious Schools from Teaching Against Homosexuality Approved
By Hilary White
LONDON, March 22, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The UK’s Sexual Orientation Regulations, that will make it illegal for Christian schools, services and businesses to operate according to their religious principles, passed its last hurdle last night in a vote in the House of Lords.
A last minute attempt to defeat the legislation failed. A motion by Baroness O’Caithain that would have scrapped the Regulations on the grounds of anti-religious discrimination was voted down 168 votes to 122. The regulations will be implemented at the end of April.
During the brief debate, Baroness Detta O’Caithain said the SORs are seriously flawed and drew attention to the now notorious breaches of proper democratic procedure by the government who, she said, did not allow proper parliamentary scrutiny. The Peers were not allowed to change the wording of the law but only to vote yes or no.
With the passage of the SOR’s, she said, the state had decided that "a citizen’s right to manifest sexual orientation is absolute, but the right to manifest religious belief is not."
Hundreds of Christians and others concerned for democratic freedom of religious expression attended a prayer rally outside the Houses of Parliament while the debate took place in the House of Lords.
While they were given little time in Parliament or the Upper House, the SOR’s have been the subject of months of debate in the media since the beginning of January when the Catholic Church, the Church of England, Evangelical, Muslim and Jewish groups warned they would spell the effective end of freedom of religious expression in Britain.
In early January, Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, made international headlines when he said that attempting to force Catholic adoption agencies to adopt children to homosexual couples would leave the Church no choice but to close the agencies.
Others said that there was more at stake than only one group or social service, but that the democratic principle of freedom of religious expression was under direct threat. Since the January decision by Prime Minister Tony Blair, a government document was released indicating that the school curriculum would be included and faith-based schools would not be allowed to teach traditional social mores "as if they were objectively true."
While Cardinal Murphy O’Connor indicated that he still held out hopes that some form of accommodation could be found in the twenty-one month "adjustment period" granted churches, others were less sanguine about the government’s good will.
LifeSiteNews.com spoke to Fr. Timothy Finigan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Southwark and the founder of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life who said, "I don’t think it will be productive to negotiate with the government over this. Clearly the regulations are as they are and they have shown that they are not prepared to negotiate or make concessions. The offer of the adjustment period shows that."
While the exemption requested by the Church for the adoption agencies was turned down by Tony Blair, what they got with the government’s offer of a delaying period, said Fr. Finigan, "was a kind of stay of execution. But there’s nothing there for them. In the meantime, they still have to refer children to be adopted to homosexual couples."
Militant gay activists, he said, will almost certainly now move on to the next phase of test legal cases against smaller Christian or Muslim institutions such as schools or boarding houses.
"The one thing the government doesn’t want to see right now is priests and ministers in prison. That means they are going to start with schools or businesses. They’ve been pushing hard in education for years," Fr. Finigan said.
Since 1944, Catholic schools in Britain have been partially subsidized by the government. Lord Pilkington of Oxenford said that inasmuch as the SOR’s assert that individual "human rights" trumped the rights of voluntary societies, they challenge the democratic foundation of the state.
"It is absolutely wrong for a democratic state to assert that the churches and their voluntary societies cannot follow their doctrine merely because the state pays the money. In this, as I say, they break 200 years of tradition." Lord Pilkington said.
Read related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
UK: Religious Schools May Not Teach Christian Sexual Morals "As if They Were Objectively True"
Oppressive Sexual Orientation Regs Pass in UK Parliament; House of Lords Tomorrow