Christianity, the legal system and discrimination

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Responding to Lord Carey's call for special provisions for religious litigants or defendants in the court system, Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, commented:

"Lord Carey's intervention will be widely seen as unhelpful, inept, and unjust in its implications. It is supposed to be 'defending Christianity', but in so doing it is seeking to impose through the law just one version of Christian understanding. Such an approach is actually more likely to bring Christianity into disrepute than to strengthen it.

"Christians are not being treated unfairly in the court system. They are merely being asked to play by the same rules as everyone else when providing public goods and services. Seeking special exemptions, opt-outs, different rules and different judges in order to allow Christians to discriminate against LGBT people will be seen by most inside and outside the churches as wrong and contrary to the Christian message of overflowing love for our neighbours."

"What is happening is that internal arguments about sexuality and sexual morality within the churches are being projected into the wider public arena, with the claim that the 'sensitivities' of one side of this argument should have general legal force in situations where the rights of those who have nothing to do with the church, as well as some who are being excluded within it, are being violated.

"But the idea that people like Lord Carey should effectively have jurisdiction in public law is absurd, unnecessary and unfeasible - and has nothing to do with 'religious rights'. Rather it is based on a claim for privilege which is no longer sustainable in a post-Christendom world, and which many other Christians find offensive on theological, not just civic, grounds.

"Christianity is much larger than institutionally 'established' religion (Christendom). The undermining of a top-down, command-and-control version of the church within a plural society does not have to be seen as a threat. Rather, it is an opportunity for an authentically liberating understanding of the Christian message to re-emerge.

"This is what those who are trying to entrench privileges for institutionalised religion have not yet been able to recognise and respond to positively. Until they do, the log-jame will continue."