A senior judge has insisted that people of all religions must be equal before the law, while strongly criticising the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, for suggesting that Christians should be given their own courts.
The judge, Justice Laws, made the remark while rejecting a case brought by a counsellor who refused to offer relationship counselling to a same-sex couple. Gary MacFarlane said that his refusal was based on his Christian faith.
Intervening in favour of MacFarlane, George Carey had gone so far as apparently to ask for Christians to be treated differently by the law.
But Laws attacked Carey's comments in his judgment, saying that “the precepts of any one religion cannot sound any louder in the general law than any other”.
MacFarlane brought the case after being sacked by Relate Avon in 2008. His interpretation of the Bible leads him to conclude that sexual activity between people of the same sex is sinful.
But the details of his case became obscured as groups seeking to promote privileges for Christians rallied in his support, as part of a wider agenda. Speaking in court, MacFarlane's barrister Paul Diamond predicted “civil unrest” if “the established faith in this land” is not upheld.
Laws refused to grant a right to appeal as he comprehensively rejected the claim. He denied allegations that judges have been biased against Christians, insisting that “They administer the law in accordance with the judicial oath – without fear or favour, without affection or ill-will”.
The ruling was welcomed by religious liberty and equality campaigners, including Christians.
“Lord Justice Laws' decision shows Lord Carey's statement for what it is,” said Naomi Phillips of the British Humanist Association, “a desperate cry from those unrepresentative few who are trying to retain the kind of privileges for religion that have no place in our modern, liberal and democratic society.
But Andrea Williams of Christian Concern For Our Nation criticised the judge's decision. She claimed that his ruling “in effect seeks to rule out Christian principles of morality from the public square”.
A number of Christian groups seek to secure privileges for Christians on the basis that Britain is a “Christian country”. They defend the vestiges of Christendom, the system that saw the church allied with political and cultural power for centuries before its decline over the last few decades.
Other Christians groups, such as the thinktank Ekklesia, welcome Post-Christendom as an opportunity for Christianity to stand with those on the margins without being compromised by wealth and privilege.