Making Christianity a crime?

By Dominic Browne
March 18, 2011

The issue of Christians with anti-homosexual beliefs fostering children continues to inspire hysterical coverage in the right-wing press, despite widespread rebuttals.

The Mail reports that a Christian couple “have been barred from fostering children because of their belief that homosexuality is wrong”, following comments from David Cameron that the couple were dealt with in an “appropriate way”.

In fact as pointed out by Ekklesia’s Symon Hill on Left Foot Forward ( the judges made no such ruling. Lord Justice Munby stated:

“No one is asserting that Christians (or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims) are not ‘fit and proper’ persons to foster or adopt. No one is contending for a blanket ban. No one is seeking to de-legitimise Christianity or any other faith or belief…

“No one is seeking to give Christians, Jews or Muslims or, indeed, peoples of any faith, a second class status.”

The Daily Express, railing against what it sees as the “ghastly decline this country has suffered over recent years at the hands of the ruling elite”, went as far as to say: “Eunice and Owen Johns’s only crime, in the eyes of the court, is to be Christian.”

The court will no doubt be surprised to hear that they have ruled that being Christian is a crime. It’s worth repeating that the judges refused to rule on the Johns’ suitability to be foster parents and complained that the parties involved in the case failed to bring forward an issue that could receive a yes or no answer.

In fact the suggestion made by the judges on the issue was that it could be appropriate for a local authority to take prospective foster parents’ views on sexuality into account. The judges went on to say:

“This is not a prying intervention into mere belief… The local authority is entitled to explore the extent to which prospective foster carers’ beliefs may affect their behaviour, their treatment of a child being fostered by them.”

On the specific issue of religious belief Lord Justice Munby spoke on “what ought to be, but seemingly are not, well understood principles regulating the relationship of religion and law in our society”.

He went on to say: “Religion - whatever the particular believer’s faith - is no doubt something to be encouraged but it is not the business of government or of the secular courts, though the courts will, of course, pay every respect and give great weight to the individual’s religious principles…

“However, it is important to realise that reliance upon religious belief, however conscientious the belief and however ancient and respectable the religion, can never of itself immunise the believer from the reach of the secular law. And invocation of religious belief does not necessarily provide a defence to what is otherwise a valid claim.”

He concluded: “So it is that the law must firmly safeguard the right to hold and express religious beliefs. Equally firmly, it must eschew any protection of such a belief’s content in the name only of its religious credentials. Both principles are necessary conditions of a free and rational regime.”


Dominic Browne is an intern at Left Foot Forward (, a political blog for progressives that seeks to provide evidence-based analysis on British politics, policy, and current affairs.

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