Scaremongering and religious liberty

There are many words that I could use to describe the front page headline in today’s Daily Telegraph. “Inaccurate” is one of the most polite, although it rather understates the problem.

The Telegraph declares “Vicars to be sued over gay weddings”. Many people glancing at it must have got the impression that a court case was imminent.

The opening paragraph was less misleading, saying only that “Clergymen could be sued if they refuse to carry out homosexual ‘marriages’ in church, senior bishops and peers have warned”.

Even this is an appallingly unbalanced opening to the story. The House of Lords has voted to give faith groups the freedom to carry out legally recognised same-sex partnership ceremonies on their premises. The amendment explicitly states that it will not require them to do so.

Despite this, Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester, has predicted (with no evidence whatsoever) that the Bill will lead to clergy being sued for refusing to carry out such ceremonies. It is frustrating that the media should pay so much attention to such an unfounded prediction, let alone that a national daily paper should lead with a headline wording this prediction as fact.

Since the vote in the Lords, those who are afraid of religious same-sex partnerships have latched on to Scott-Joynt’s wild warnings as an excuse for opposing the legislation. Knowing how mean it would appear to refuse religious liberty to others, they claim instead that it is their own religious liberty which is under threat.

It is sad that some seem to think that a thing must either be prohibited or compulsory, and cannot be optional. It says a great deal about their world view that they are unable to envisage a situation of real religious liberty, in which different groups can promote their views and values through dialogue and persuasion rather than coercion and the misuse of law.

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