Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Religious Freedom vs. Civil Right...The Pope Strikes back!

Wow...I woke up this morning to find my email box screaming at me with an urgent GFV alert. Apparently the Catholic Church is at odds with UK lawmakers over a proposed equality bill and it has attracted the attention of Pope Benedict the XVI....as I understand it, it's generally not a good thing to pop up on the Popes radar...especially to the extent that he feels the need to make a personal appearance. The last time the Pope personally visited the UK was 1982....wow. You all must have done something really bad for the Pope to come personally after that long an absence...

This was the first time that I had heard that a conflict was taking place between UK lawmakers and the Church, so I had to get up to speed with what was happening. A kind friend from London (orangegoblin82) helped clue me in to the bill and its supposed consequences. In effect, what is taking place is not a new bill but a clarification of existing law. As of now, the UK's employment non-discrimination laws make only one exception for "religious institutions"...which is a pretty broad term. Religious institutions, in this sense could be taken to mean not only the church and its clergy, but also adoption agencies and charities run by the church as well as anyone employed by these secular arms of the church. Those bodies would include secretaries, accountants, lawyers, social workers, maintance workers and a whole host of people who's jobs would fall under civil governance as much as they would the church as their employer. The church would still have to give benefits and take taxes from these individuals just like any other employer would and thus be subject to certain laws.

The clarification to the existing law would expand non-discrimination protections to this level of people as well...causing the Catholic Church to cry foul. The law in no way affects clergy...only those who are paid employee's of the church. This would mean that the church could not fire...nor refuse to hire someone on the basis of their sexuality. This has the church up in arms claiming that this move would force the church to employ those that their faith rejects as sinfull. UK legislators argue that the fact that these are paid employee's lands them under the jusdiction of the state and its laws....render unto Ceasar indeed.

This has the Pope racing in the Popemobile to put the smackdown on this bill. But knowing that people in the UK like to be told what to do about as much as the Catholic Church does, I have a feeling this is going to be quite an intense contest to see who blinks first....ah I see we have footage of the Pope arriving in London now:

It took me a few moments of struggle with this becuase I don't believe that we should force the church to accept anyone that their faith prevents thems from accepting. I don't believe that the Christian faith..as I was raised with it...truly denounces gays as many assert. However, they believe that, and freedom of religion is one of the many freedoms my country is based on. I looked at adoption agencies and charity works as an arm of the church and to intrude in such a way as a breach of religious freedom...even if I don't agree with their stance.....but then...

My husband...who's job it is to challenge me, asked a simple question. "would it be o.k. to fire someone because they are Catholic?"

No, it would not be... and that would also illicit cries of the restriction of religious freedom. So why is it o.k. for the church to do it to us? Don't we do unto others as we would have them do unto us?

The light went on for me that what they were doing was leaving the realm of religious freedom and entering the realm of civil governance. The church  still must provide sick leave, health insurance, vacation time, retirement, and all the standard benefits you would provide to an employee in the area in which they are operating. The church doesn't contest this as a restriction on their freedom and the people this law effects may or may not even be members of the church,...they are employee's at a level of the church that is working in secular society.

Pope Benedict to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales gathered in Rome:

"Your country is well-known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society."

"Yet, as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs."

"In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed."
His Holiness is rather fond of the "natural law" schtick. He beats that drum with little realization of its true meaning and implications. If he were ever to be confronted with a scientific study about homosexuality in nature I bet he would ignore or suppress it. His version of natural law goes no farther than Catholic cannon or "because thats the way its always been."

And whats even more damaging to the Catholic faith is that this is the direction church officials want to go....more conservative...more extreme. After all...pontiffs concerned about the infiltration of liberall ideas into the church elected Ratzinger because of his conservative and hardline stance. They were afraid Catholicism was becoming diluted. What they may have actually accomplished however, is to completely banish all possibility for the Church to grow more compassionate to a suffering world. They are increasingly being seen as a force for religiously based bullying and nonsensical policy. Many wonder why they spend so much time and effort fighting gay issues that could better be spent helping out in places like Haiti or why they ban birth control when so many nations face starvation and overcrowding. They are pushing away more potential believers than they are drawing to themselves.

In Addition, legislators are now ..again.. facing the unique position of voting concience...or faith. Many will have to chose whether to back a law that they believe in and face reprisals from their religious leaders or join the lockstep of Vatican policy.  Labour MEP Stephen Hughes, speaking in Rome, said: "As a Catholic, I am appalled by the attitude of the Pope. Religious leaders should be trying to eradicate inequality, not perpetuate it." ..wow...you dont think the Pope has his picture on his  gold encrusted Papal dart board right now?...I smell a few excommunications coming and that is a rather sad state of affairs.

 Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell offered this, in counterpoint to Pope Benedict. He says the Popes efforts are a ...

 "coded attack on the legal rights granted to women and gay people".

"His ill-informed claim that our equality laws undermine religious freedom suggests that he supports the right of churches to discriminate in accordance with their religious ethos," he said.

"He seems to be defending discrimination by religious institutions and demanding that they should be above the law."
I would add that the Popes efforts could also be seen as a way to exclude and thus discriminate against those of other faiths from employment as well....which I'm sure would also be covered under the law.

So...we find that as civil rights issues go..this one is not as straight forward as most and is likely to incite heated debate. I have no doubt that there will be a chorus of "I told you so's" from religious groups that appose gay rights and use the argument that "gays want to destroy religion" as a defence. However, this issue is larger than a gay rights issue and touches many different people. But now its your turn to wheigh in....you have heard my point of view...whats yours?


  1. Well I think this.

    It is fine for the Church to only promote straight men to the priesthood. That is none of my business.

    But if they want to run schools (schools that receive government funding I would like to add) and employ teachers then they should have to play by the same rules as everyone else. If they want to run an accounts department then they will have to employ accountants on their merits.

    Why should they be above anyone else. The chairman of Marks and Spencers may hate gays, but he isn't allowed to sack us.

    The thing they are still smarting at is the fact that their adoption agencies aren't allowed to turn away gay couples. They received no opt outs for the provision of goods and services and they haven't shut up about it since.

    The Pope is going to have to get used to the fact that this isn't Italy and we have a secular culture here in the UK.

  2. I find it disgusting that the Catholic Church does not accept women and gay people. If it were up to me, I'd make the Church illegal and imprison Ratzinger unless they accept both those groups as priests. "Religious freedom" my ass, that's pure discrimination, and it should be illegal.

  3. Its a wonder that the Pop has much of a congragation left to stand on, why his "fallowers" continue to fallow him is beyound me.
    But its not suprising, the catholic church has and dose pull the same stunts here to, just with out the pope showing up at the front door each time. As a chruch the only binding force seems to be one of common hatred of certen groups of people.(such hart warming values)

  4. @aNothWestView In my experience all the ordinary Catholics I know tend to ignore quite a lot of the messages they're getting from Rome. Which is why they're still Catholics.

    @orangegoblin82 - all of this. Yes.

    I think possibly the new legislation does go too far - I understand it could affect hiring of youth pastors and similar. I may hate the message, but I do think they have a right to preach it, and so only those not doing any preaching should fall within the new law.

  5. @ orangegoblin

    I agree with you. If religious institutions choose to oppose aspects of "freedom laws" (in Canada we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms - I am not familiar with British Law, but I'm sure you have a similar sort of document), then they must be treated as other corporations as much as "freedom laws" will allow them to.

    In Canada, churches, being recognized as charitable organizations and community centers, receive enormous tax exemptions. I know that the church I attended until it no longer was any degree of comfortable would've been put under if it were not for these exemptions because the value of their land alone was well into the millions. An important precedent was set a couple weeks ago in Calgary though, where a Protestant church that was very vocally opposed to gay rights (moreso than traditional misinformation provided about homosexuals in churches) was removed from the list of charities that got these tax exemptions. This event was reason to cheer.

    @ NothWest

    I have found, speaking with some of my Catholic friends, that there are very few who actually approve of Pope Benedict's use of power to consolidate and strengthen the role of the Catholic Church in politics. However, they still stand by the existence of the Pope as an important part of human spiritual interaction. I liken it to the period of Russian History that preceeded Peter the Great (this is the History side of me coming in). His father's death, and the ensuing dual-Tzar rule between Peter and his brother (whose name escapes me right now) existed because people believed in the importance of having a legitimate, hereditary Tzar (his brother), but wanted another Tzar (Peter) because of his competence and popularity. As an individual, the brother was not popular. As a figure, the role of king was very important.

    I think Catholic support of the current Pope can maybe be understood as similar; "The Pope kind of sucks, we know that. But the Pope is an important position, even when the person sucks..." Does this make sense?

  6. If the church doesn't want to deal with the secular government and its "crazy" non-discrimination laws, they should stay in their churches. I do appreciate all the charitable things the churches do, and if they want to use these to spread the Christian faith, that's fine too, but they shouldn't preach discrimination and expect to be exempt from the rule of law.
    I agree that Catholics acknowledge the pope, but most just see him as a figurehead and don't hang on his every word.
    I also agree that the Roman Catholic Church is further alienating itself by going against what more progressive nations believe in. I am a history buff so I like the idea of the Vatican, but they have to change with the times or the Vatican will just be a tiny country in Rome.

    An interesting aside is that in my hometown, the First Baptist Church, which is/was the largest church in town has supposedly been kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention for supporting gay youth. Apparently they sent around an offering plate to support gay youth, which they do have 4-5 gays in the church's youth group. I thought this was a bold action in a very conservative area and I was proud of the Pastor and his wife. I know his wife from teaching me in college and have met him before.
    Of course this caused some people to leave the church and now there is another Baptist church that is growing exponentially and just built a new building.

    Just thought it would be beneficial to give an example of Christians that realize all people should be equal under God.

  7. I guess I'm not one to see the great value in the Pope, then again I'm not catholic. But to me the Palpaciy(SP) tends to come off heriticaly (SP) a majority of the time. I don't quite get the whole argument that the popes important be we just ignore what the pope says thing ether, its either one or the other. IF the pope is important they you can't simply ignore the pope and if he is not then there is no real reason to be "catholic" other then the common ground of whom they don't like as they are the only Church that is directed by the pope.
    just my 2 cents

  8. I think that first image of the popemobile has the wrong tagline - it should be "ancient fossils need the best protection possible."

    Re. the Single Equality Bill thing, it's actually not even as simplistic as you described. The provisions were there in order for the UK to comply with EU legislation, so the later amendments (which effectively gutted the changes in the Bill) will have to be overturned by the next government. So the Pope's declaration of victory is hollow - this is not something the Church can win as the decision has already been made at the European (i.e. Federal) level.

    Also, because the provisions were gutted by the House of Lords, rather than the House of Commons, that places the UK's system of government at odds with EU law, which requires that state governments be democratic; the Lords is a mixture of appointed (life peers) aristocratic (hereditary peers) judicial (Law Lords) and clerical (Lords Spiritual - senior CofE bishops & archbishops) positions, only a tiny proportion of which have ever fought an election - mostly life peers who are former Commons MPs. The House of Lords is, to my knowledge, the only legislative body in the entire EU whose members not subject to any degree of the democratic process. Importantly, the amendments were forced through by only a tiny number of votes, and had the Lords Spiritual not voted the amendments would have failed. So the difference was made by unelected legislators with an inherent vested interest. In American terms, it would be like giving the RC church votes in the US Senate. So an undemocratic body has tried to overturn an EU-mandated law.

  9. All the Catholic Church has to do is incorporate and they can now run for president here if they want. :(

  10. My parents subjected me to eight years of Catholic school. Shame on you Mom and Dad!!! I especially hated going to confession!! Imagine being 8 years old and shoved into a small dark closet space...door is then shut and window is opened and behind the window is a shadowy figure of an old man!! This sounds like a horror flick to me!!! THEN..you had to tell him your sins!!! Seriously, what sins does an 8 year old have??? I used to make up stuff just to get out quickly..it was so scary.

    I think I have post traumatic stress syndrome!! lol

    The church needs MONEY!!!! Now..if I were the Pope I would accept EVERYONE!!! There would be more cash flow!!! I would let priests get married..allow women to be priests and stop bashing gay people!! I think the Church would find a lot more "souls" to fuel its appetite for money...

    But...I am not the Pope!

  11. Bryan, Im so sick and tired of this nazi-pope. Yes, thats what he is. The Vatican released a statement a while ago saying they dont want homosexuals to be discriminated against, I will see if I can find an English version of that statement, so you can read it. It was groundbreaking, and a Dutch gay ex-politician now working for the Human Rights Campaign was involved in that statement (meaning, he did a lot of work behind the scenes to get this off the ground). To then read about this new statement shows again how much of a liars these people at Vatican really are.
    Also, many Catholic Dutch turned their back on the Vatican many years ago because of it's hypocricy and cruelty it dishes out, even if it's just 'opinions', so the Pope does not have any hold on the Catholics here and Im very happy about it. The Catholics here cannot be compared with the fundamentalists you have in the USA btw, here they are the most pro-human rights of any religious group we have.
    Anyway, as one of the posters here mentions, Pope has no influence on UK laws. But the fact the Vatican even feels and wants to insert themselves in UK politics is a basic violation. And the need to make such statements is just a gross discrimination of homosexuals. I have no respect for the man whatsoever, and with me, glady many Dutch dont have either.
    Lets see what he has to say when he visits Portugal that is working on gay marriage, and almost 100% sure it will fully pass. Im sure he will piss on that, too.
    By the way, Luxemburg (small country inbetween Germany, France and Belgium) is working on gay marriage, and their government stated it will be legalized this year! So, good news.
    Sorry for sounding so pissed off, Im just fully done with the religious discriminatory bigots.
    Wendy x

  12. I guess the Vatican really only meant violence against gays is not okay. They do mention discrimination, so one would think they would support anti-discrimination laws like in UK, but I guess they dont mean that by discrimination (then what exactly do they mean when using that word? See, just a lie.)

    It actually also doesnt make sense. I think, and many with me, any anti-gay/lesbian speech coming from Vatican/Pope is hatespeech, which can incite violence, yet, they condemn violence against gays&lesbians. So, thats quite contradictory. Fundamentalist religion doesnt make sense anyway.

  13. Hey Bryan
    I have 2 great friends both raised Catholics.... the first 1 has a lesbian sister that she loves and likes her sister's partner but refused to go to their civil union because she doesn't believe in homosexuality, she doesn't think their partnership should be valid at all, so she basically doesn't accept homosexuality at all.. which I found mind-blogging when I had a vocal discussion with her (many times)
    My other friend (Best friend whom I adore)
    is accepting in that it doesn't personally offend her, her view is homosexuals aren't doing her harm so why should we harm them....
    BTW I show her Depfox and she loves Jay...lol
    Where Im a Bryan fan....lol
    But my point they were both raised in the SAME church and went to the SAME catholic school but have totally different views... my 1st friend I told u about sometimes just pisses me off with her very ridged views on life in general... my 2nd friend and I have very different views but we enjoy our conversations over lots of ... lol