The news out of Britian:

There is no place in British law for Christian beliefs, despite this country’s long history of religious observance and the traditions of the established Church, two High Court judges said on Monday.

Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson made the remarks when ruling on the case of a Christian couple who were told that they could not be foster carers because of their view that homosexuality is wrong.

There’s obviously no direct correlation between what’s going down in Britain and what might happen here.  We’ve got the first amendment, which will do a lot.

But these sorts of conflicts between religious liberties and homosexuality are at least plausible in these United States–especially as long as we think that religious beliefs “that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.”  On that standard, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where parents would be denied the freedom to be foster parents on grounds that their beliefs would potentially harm a ten-year-old child whose sexual identity might be opaque to himself.

Oh, and that quote isn’t taken from Britain, folks.   It’s from the Prop 8 reversal.

Look, I don’t think this is paranoid hand-wringing.  I am optimistic nothing like this will ever happen in America.  I simply want to suggest that we should be wary of the idea that the state’s involvement in matters of sexual arrangements has no bearing whatsoever on religious freedom.

As a gay friend pointed out to me yesterday, the question of homosexuality is one that is much broader than the bedroom.  Gays and lesbians structure every decision around their relationships (as they probably should), which is why the implications of a changing social moral code are far broader than simply what people do or don’t do in their bedroom.  And if religious objections to homosexuality are thought of as “harmful” or intrinsically bigoted, then the notion that the social restructuring that the new moral code requires will leave the church untouched becomes a lot less plausible.  The space in which the church will be free to move will become a lot smaller.

More to say on this, of course.  And all this is still too hasty, but hopefully not ill-formed.  I put it out there as a hypothesis and eagerly await your comments.

(Also, don’t miss the definitive takedown of the ruling by Melanie Phillips at The Spectator.)

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing the news out of Britain, Matt. It’s very disturbing. Even though we’ve got the First Amendment, I’m not optimistic that this will never happen in America. Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint messages have awakened me to our boiling frog scenario. Consider:

    * Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in the Proposition 8 case that opposition to so-called gay marriage is “harmful to gays and lesbians,” as you mentioned.

    * The Obama administration will no longer uphold the Defense of Marriage Act because it’s motivated by “animus” that violates the Equal Protection Clause.

    * Apple, Inc. accepted the Manhattan Declaration app and then rejected it later when pressured by gay activists who said the signers are engaged in a “hate fest.” CEO Steve Jobs says the document, which defends traditional marriage, the sanctity of life, and religious liberty, could expose gays and lesbians to harm.

    * The same gay activists also waged a nasty campaign against Chick-fil-A restaurants for donating sandwiches to a conference by the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which opposes so-called gay marriage.

    * Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Family Research Council a “hate group” along with groups such as the Ku Klux Klan because of its opposition to the gay rights movement.

    The temperature is getting hotter all the time, and if enough people are convinced that religious objections to homosexuality are “harmful” and “hateful,” I expect judges will say there’s no place in American law for Christian beliefs.

    Reply

  2. Thanks for all your good work here at Mere-O, Matt! The link above regarding the British court’s decision concerning Christian couples and foster care is really interesting. I don’t know how likely it is that something like this will happen in the future of our country but I think it’s worth noting a few differences (and in this case ironies) between Britain’s legal system and ours.

    First, as you mention, we have the first amendment which expressly safeguards the free exercise of religion. Even scholars who hold a narrow view of free exercise clause protections seem to think that it protects rights of private conscience and religous belief. As you correctly point out, the first amendment presents a significant roadblock for a court to promulgate a similar ruling in an American jurisdiction.

    Second, while our written Constitution is the supreme law of the land, acts of parliment are sovereign in Britain. British courts don’t have the ability to void acts of parliment in the way that American courts can void legislative decisions. The irony here is that the British legislature could effectively overrule the court’s decision (I think) while (I’m confident) an American court would have to effectively overrule any legislative act that accomplished the same result as the British court’s ruling.

    Third, our first amendment also contains a clause prohibiting the establishment of religion. Even scholars who take a narrow view of the establishment clause agree that it prohibits a governmentally established church like the Church of England. Ironically then, while an American court has constitutional authority to claim that the law excludes Christian beliefs, the British legal structure seems to require the exact opposite.

    I don’t know if any of these thoughts support a clear thesis but they’re what occurred to me after reading your post. Keep up the good work!

    Reply

  3. @Dan,

    So good to hear from you! I hope things are well.

    I almost pointed out the irony of #3. That is, perhaps, partly why the Anglican church will probably eventually have to be disestablished or become so institutionally ambiguous on this issue that it no longer resembles anything remotely Christian.

    Also, I had forgotten that parliament is the supreme law over there. That’s an interesting wrinkle I’ll have to account for.

    @Christopher, yes, I’m aware of the challenges. But outside of Prop 8, there still aren’t many legal decisions to make the sort of predictions on that often get passed about.

    matt

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  4. And as much as I disagree with the “far right” they have been predicting this for a long time now.

    Thanks for covering this topic Matt.

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  5. Your gay friend didn’t make much of an impression as you refer to “the state’s involvement in matters of sexual arrangements” as infringing on religious freedom. It is the state’s legal recognition of the relationships of gays and lesbians and their equal treatement under civil law that will precipitate the crisis. If you meant “sexual arrangements” as relationships, I see your point.

    In the UK case, the judges’ decision that “the right of homosexuals to equality should take precedence over the right of Christians to manifest their beliefs and moral values” was based on their reading of the regulations for fostering children, which prohibit unequal treatment of LGBTQ children. It was not the sweeping judgment that Phillips’ presented it as.

    That is a far cry from the claim that the couple was barred because they would not PROMOTE homosexuality to the children in their care. That claim was made here, which was linked from Colson’s website. (Mr. Benson’s comment prompted me to look at BreakPoint. No, thank you.)

    I don’t think people holding anti-homosexual beliefs on religious (or any) grounds should be barred from having foster children but, if they could not offer equal treatment to a LGBTQ child, that child should be removed by the state from their care. As agents of the state, they could not discriminate against the children placed in their care.

    The judges were trying to make a point about the secular nature of civil law and its protections but they seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

    Reply

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