Eunice and Owen Johns (Photo Christian Legal Centre)
A husband and wife whose dispute with local city officials over their plan to resume providing care for foster children escalated to the point a court concluded Christians only have “qualified” rights to their faith now is asking those local officials to change their decision.
The case involves Eunice and Owen Johns, who were rejected by local foster care authorities because they would not promise to promote homosexuality to children.
A court commentary on the fight found Christians have that “qualified” right to their faith, and an expert attorney noted it was futile to appeal because the courts now have a “special animosity” for the faithful.
However, the court had declined to issue an actual ruling in their case, issuing only its statement, so now the Johns have decided to resubmit an application to foster children assigned to the Derby City Council.
Word of the move comes from the Christian Legal Center, which has documented the case.
The center said the Johns and the council had asked the High Court for a declaration on how the council should treat an application from potential foster care givers who were unwilling to promote the practice of homosexuality to a small child.
“As was widely reported at the time, although the particular judicial declaration on the balancing of rights that the parties sought was not given, the judges used the opportunity provided to make a forceful case against the right to manifest Christian beliefs in the face of equalities legislation, stating that homosexual rights trumped freedom of religion in the context of fostering, that councils can require the promotion of homosexuality and that it would be legal for councils to reject foster applications from Christians on the basis that they would not promote homosexuality,” the center said.
Now in a letter to the head of adoption and fostering, the Johns asked for reconsideration and a change of policy.
“You know that we would love and care for any child in our care and you are aware of our views on sexual ethics,” the letter said. “However, the National Minimum Standards (NMS) on fostering, the Statutory Guidance, the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010 and the Council’s own Equality and Diversity Policy do not require that ‘positive attitudes be demonstrated toward homosexuality’ (paragraph 101 of the High Court judgment). Such a requirement is not mandatory.”
The couple, supported in their battle by the Christian Legal Center, cited a recent poll that demonstrated “the majority of the public believe that people with our views should be permitted to foster and we believe that the council should listen to the electorate.”
Their letter also said, “We believe that there is still space in the law for Christians to be accommodated in the fostering process and that the council can make a ‘permissible accommodation’ which would conform with NMS 7.2 and the Council’s Equality and Diversity Policy and that it can interpret the relevant policies in a manner that balances the rights of the homosexual community and the rights of those who subscribe to biblical views on sexual ethics. The council can still comply with their duties under the Children’s Act 1989.”
The couple previously had provided foster care in the United Kingdom and had applied to resume their work, but suddenly became the target of government rejection because they expressed their Christian beliefs regarding homosexuality.
According to the court case statement authored by Lord Justice Munby and Mr. Justice Beatson, “the laws and usages of the realm do not include Christianity, in whatever form.” They said, “the aphorism that ‘Christianity is part of the common law of England’ is mere rhetoric; at least since the decision of the House of Lords in Bowman v Secular Society Limited … it has been impossible to contend that it is law.”
“It is important to realize that reliance upon religious belief, however conscientious the belief and however ancient and respectable the religion, can never of itself immunize the believer from the reach of the secular law. And invocation of religious belief does not necessarily provide a defense to what is otherwise a valid claim,” they wrote.
The judges noted Article 9 of the European Convention, which explains all have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the related “practice and observance,” but they said the “manifestation” of Christianity is subject to “qualifications.”
Munby and Beatson endorsed the belief that it “cannot therefore be justified” that a position “held purely on religious grounds” could be defended by the law.
On the specific issue of requiring foster parents to promote homosexuality, the judges said. “If children, whether they are known to be homosexuals or not, are placed with carers who … evince an antipathy, objection to or disapproval of, homosexuality and same-sex relationships, there may well be a conflict with the local authority’s duty to ‘safeguard and promote’ the ‘welfare’ of looked-after children.”
The statement continued, “While as between the protected rights concerning religion and sexual orientation there is no hierarchy of rights, there may, as this case shows, be a tension between equality provisions concerning religious discrimination and those concerning sexual orientation.”
Munby and Beatson said in their statement that there is only a “qualified” right “to manifest religious belief” and that “interferences in the sphere of employment and analogous spheres are readily found to be justified, even where the members of a particular religious group will find it difficult in practice to comply.”
Paul Diamond, a barrister who worked on the case, later said there was no point in appealing the statement from the court, as the UK now has an entrenched bias against Christians.
In a commentary posted by the Christian Legal Centre website, Diamond, who represented the Johns family, said it now is up to the people to redirect their nation, as the courts have proved they won’t.
“This liberal tyranny must be rejected by the British people. The law is now prejudiced, irrational and partial; it punishes individuals for ‘thought crime’ and the state endorses an inverse morality,” he wrote.
“Many British people despair of the law enforcement agencies and have (rightly) little confidence that they will achieve justice in the courts. There is no reason in law or otherwise why sexual orientation rights should prevail over religious rights. There is something deeply wrong with the ethical and legal compass of Britain,” Diamond said.
Diamond said the question is pertinent “in light of the fact that I have reluctantly advised the Johns not to appeal; such an appeal would normally be expected but now, in my opinion, futile – a waste of resources. The courts are so set against religious freedom for Christians that an appeal is likely to only make matters worse.”
He said it’s a combination of “bad laws” and “poor judicial appointments.”