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In a surprising turn in the United Kingdom, where government officials have sought to punish civil servants who object to same-sex civil unions on religious grounds, a parliamentary committee is now advocating protections for those people.
The report comes from the Christian Institute, which has documented numerous cases in which Christians have faced deliberate government discrimination for holding the biblical belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and that homosexual behavior is wrong.
It was the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights that advised examining protections for teachers who hold a religious belief about same-sex marriage and for civil servants, such as registrars.
One registrar, Lillian Ladele, was dismissed from her post by the Islington Council for holding a Christian belief on homosexuality and refusing to perform same-sex ceremonies. She took her case to the European Court of Human Right, where she was slammed.
An institute spokesman said at the time: “It just confirms our fears that people with Christian beliefs about marriage will be penalized in the workplace. … Human rights laws are supposed to stop the power of the state being used to penalize people for their beliefs and opinions, particularly when those beliefs challenge the prevailing orthodoxy.”
But a new report by the parliamentary committee now says there is a “particular concern for the position of teachers and civil registrars.”
“We recommend,” said the report, “that the government reconsider these issues with a view to bring forward amendments in the House of Lords to put in place transitional arrangements which deal with these concerns for those in posts as registrars at the time any legislation is passed.”
The report continued: “We encourage the government to consider whether specific protections are required for faith schools and for individual teachers who hold a religious belief about same sex marriage.”
The institute noted the report comes just as U.K. lawmakers are debating amendments to a same-sex marriage plan. Some are expressing concerns about the effects of redefining marriage.
A similar movement has not yet advanced this far in the United States, although under Barack Obama, Congress approved a “hate” crimes strategy that gives special protections to homosexuals and those who have chosen other alternative sexual lifestyles.
While the plan was being debated before Congress, a lawmaker admitted that in a dispute between a member of the clergy and a homosexual activist, the law would give the activist protections not available to the clergy member.
And as early as this week, decisions are expected from the U.S. Supreme Court on two marriage cases: the Proposition 8 case in California in which a homosexual federal judge ruled that voters were not allowed to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The other case is equally significant: whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act is enforceable. It’s been federal law for decades, but Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, refuse to enforce it.
Analysts have warned that such a precedent, if allowed to stand, would give future presidents veto power not only over legislation that is proposed during their presidencies, but all existing laws, by allowing them to simply order that they not be enforced if they chose.
The committee report, assembled under the chairmanship of Labour MP Francis Hywel, said the same-sex bill has implications for free speech.
“There is particular concern that the expression of opinion on same-sex marriage by employees (and particularly those working in the public sector) may result in disciplinary proceedings or dismissal. In particular, there has been concern that criticism of same-sex marriage by teachers could be considered unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation,” the report said.
“Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society,” it said. “An interference with freedom of expression may be justified where remarks constitute an incitement to violence… However, [the law] makes it clear that the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices is not, in itself, to be considered as threatening.
“In evidence, [a witness] suggested that provision should be made to ensure that individuals who discuss or criticize same-sex marriage are able to do so reasonably without fear of criminal prosecution,” the report said. “We welcome the government’s commitment to bringing forward an amendment to ensure that the discussion or criticism of same-sex marriage will be protected from any criminal sanction.”
There also should be protections for people in employment situations, the committee said.
“The government had initially stated that the current legal framework was sufficient to deal with conscientious objection and other employment issues. In evidence, we asked the government whether further legislative provision or guidance is necessary to clarify how employment law should deal with these complex issues so that employers and employees know where they stand,” the report continued. “The secretary of state said that the government is looking at ways to provide certainty in this area.”
But the report noted the government has stated registrars must perform their duties without “discrimination.”
“We have heard significant arguments about whether existing employment and equality law provisions provide sufficient protection for employees who may wish to manifest their belief about same-sex marriage in the workplace. We note the particular concern for the position of teachers and civil registrars.”