Our ‘Magna Carta’ moment

The Church of England - - ENGLAND ON SUNDAY -

This col­umn of­ten falls foul of im­por­tant dead­lines and so it is this week with a land­mark judge­ment case coming on Tues­day af­ter I have writ­ten this. Paul Di­a­mond, the lawyer who has rep­re­sented so many Chris­tians who have fallen foul of the new es­tab­lish­ment, says that the ver­dict in the Euro­pean Court is a ‘Magna Carta’ moment. The ver­dict “will have a pro­found im­pact on the civil and re­li­gious lib­er­ties of mil­lions of peo­ple in the UK and be­yond,” he adds (‘Chris­tian rights: mar­tyred on a cross of sec­u­lar lib­er­al­ism’, Tele­graph, 14 Jan­uary 2013).

There is some hope in the cases that in­volve the wear­ing of the cross. Though the coali­tion government has shame­lessly sup­ported the right of peo­ple to wear crosses it has nev­er­the­less con­tested the cases of Shirley Chap­lin, a nurse, and Na­dia Ewe­dia, a BA worker who were told to take their cross off at work. The government has main­tained that re­li­gious free­dom is guar­an­teed by the free­dom to re­sign and get an­other job. Yet surely in Stras­bourg they will look askance at this logic and recog­nise it for a down­grad­ing of re­li­gious free­dom.

Far more com­plex and in­tractable are two other cases that in­volve the cre­ation of a hi­er­ar­chy of rights in which those of Chris­tians and those of ho­mo­sex­u­als are set against each other. Chris­tians fall foul of di­ver­sity and equal­ity. Gary McFarlane, for ex­am­ple, hy­po­thet­i­cally stated to his em­ployer that he might have dif­fi­culty giv­ing sex­ual coun­selling to a gay cou­ple. Is­ling­ton reg­is­trar Lil­lian Ladele asked to be ex­cused from civil part­ner­ships. Now in nei­ther of th­ese cases was any­one re­fused a ser­vice nor was any­one likely to be dis­ad­van­taged. But it seems the tra­di­tional Chris­tian be­liever has no rights.

At the very least, I hope, Stras­bourg this week will re­ject the no­tion of Bri­tish courts that they have a right to in­ter­fere in the area of doc­trine and the­ol­ogy. In the case of the

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