A Christian marriage counsellor sacked for refusing to give sex advice to homosexuals had his appeal bid quashed by a top court today. Gary McFarlane, 48, from Bristol, wanted permission to appeal against an employment tribunal ruling which supported his 2008 sacking. The father of two, who had worked for the national counselling service since 2003, claimed unfair dismissal on the grounds of religious discrimination.
The high-profile case led to an intervention by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, concerned about a perceived bias against Christians in the courts. Carey called for a specially constituted panel of judges with a "proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues" to hear the case. He said recent decisions involving Christians by the British courts had used "dangerous" reasoning which could ultimately even lead to civil unrest.
But throwing out McFarlane's case at the Court of Appeal on Thursday, Lord Justice Laws said legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious grounds could not be justified. Laws called the idea irrational. "But it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary," he said.
The judge said it was possible Carey's misplaced views arose from a misunderstanding of the law on discrimination. But Carey in his letter, read out in court, said: "The description of religious faith in relation to sexual ethics as 'discriminatory' is crude and illuminates a lack of sensitivity to religious belief."
He said the comparison of a Christian, in effect, with a "bigot" was further evidence of a "disparaging attitude to the Christian faith and its values."
Referring to that case, Carey said: "It is, of course, but a short step from the dismissal of a sincere Christian from employment to a religious bar to any employment by Christians."
COMMENT: Yes, we don't like George Carey. Yes, his views on certain minorities based on the less enlightened parts of Jewish tribal legislation most sensible and sensitive Jews regard as no longer applicable, make the possibility of the Kingdom of God be realised on earth less likely rather than more likely. But he may have a point.
His last comment, "It is, of course, but a short step from the dismissal of a sincere Christian from employment to a religious bar to any employment by Christians," is perfectly valid because we have the empirical evidence to prove this happens. The Church itself, including the one Carey used to head up, easily step from the condemnation of gay sex to barring gay people from employment in the Church (a policy the Roman Catholic Church is actively adhering to at the moment via its seminaries and which also reared it's ugly head when the Bishop of Hereford vetoed the appointment of a celibate youth worker because he was gay, a year or so back).
There is one thing that does worry me about the judge's decision and that is that it allows the sacking of people who held certain religious views when it was not illegal to do so. What if the Grand Tufti gets his covenant accepted and it becomes church law. If we agree with the judge on this judgement will we have to agree to be hardline believers in the infallibility of all scripture under such a covenant?
Over to you...