The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) have lost all credibility. Following a High Court case about foster parents, they have made statements which are difficult to interpret as anything other than blatantly misleading.
While they have been accused of making highly questionable claims in the past, the CLC now seem to have gone a step further in the inaccuracy of their statements.
A CLC press release after the court ruling yesterday (28 February), opened with the following sentence:
"In a landmark judgment, which will have a serious impact on the future of fostering and adoption in the UK, the High Court has suggested that Christians with traditional views on sexual ethics are unsuitable as foster carers".
But this is what the High Court judges really said about the sutiability of Christians to foster children:
"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 judges said that it was appropriate for a local authority to take potential foster parents' views on sexuality into account, but emphasised:
"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." .
The case came about because of a conflict between Derby City Council and a couple called Owen and Eunice Johns who are keen to foster children. The Johnses said that if they were fostering a child who was being considered for adoption by a same-sex couple, they would not want to allow that couple into their house.
It was unclear whether this should affect their chances of becoming foster parents, so the couple and the council agreed to seek guidance from the court. The judges declined to rule on such a hypothetical question. Thus, the High Court has not even barred the Johnses from fostering children, let alone socially conservative Christians in general.
The CLC is closely linked with Christian Concern (formerly known as Christian Concern For Our Nation). They both claim that Christians as a group are facing legal discrimination in the UK. A vast percentage of the cases they take on are concerned with same-sex relationships.
I make no secret of the fact that I disagree with the CLC and Christian Concern about a range of issues, including sexual ethics and the nature of Christianity. Nonetheless, I respect their right to hold their views and, indeed, to disagree with judges' rulings. But they do not have a right to mislead the public.
However, it is understandable that people who feel passionately about something may overstate their case, perhaps even to the point of factual inaccuracy. If the CLC were to apologise and to say that this is what has happened on this occasion, it would be charitiable to accept their apology.
So far (the evening of Tuesday, 1 March), this has not happened. The CLC are standing by their demonstrably inaccurate claims. If they wish to demonstrate integrity, they will issue another press release withdrawing their earlier statements and offering an apology. Only by doing so can they possibly regain any credibility at all.
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia. In the summer of 2011, he will walk from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for his former homophobia. See http://www.repenting.wordpress.com .