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Interesting British Supreme Court Justice’s Perspective on Rights of Christians

March 21, 2014

For all the differences in the religious world of the United Kingdom and the United States, there are still many similarities and a lot of influence back and forth.  A couple examples: the ties of the Episcopal Church (American) and Anglican Church (British, and organizational worldwide head in the Archbishop of Canterbury); the strong influence of several UK orthodox Christian thinkers and writers, such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis and the late John Stott (none “Evangelical” in the American sense, but influential there).  

A British high court judge, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, has made some interesting remarks while speaking recently at Yale Law School, according to a Mail Online article here.  Lady Hale believes Christians sometimes lose rights cases in courts “…because they cannot claim that their faith demands they follow strict rules” (wording of the linked article, above, not a direct quote of her talk).

What she seems to mean is that other faiths that have more specific and strong demands (especially of measurable things such as clothing and diet) than do most Christian sects, tend to get their practices legally defended when Christians often do not.  (BTW, this may direct the issue away from the assumption of “political correctness” as potentially favoring other religions over Christianity, just because they are other or are minority. There may be more legally-based reasons.) 

From just this article, I’m not clear what Lady Hale’s suggestions really are toward a more just or fair approach to the defense of individuals’ or groups’ religious  beliefs.  Balancing the situation is not easy. But it’s an interesting issue that I’d not seen commented on by someone in a judicial system outside of, but similar to that of the USA.

She also makes reference to the situation in Canada, which again is very similar to the US situation, yet quite different in their having a “national church”.

I’m hoping any British or Canadian (or other) readers can shed some light on all this, from your perspective.  Any comments? 

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Felix Alexander permalink
    March 22, 2014 1:33 pm

    I suppose I’m an other Christian, although I don’t really think the difference between America on the one hand and Britain and the other ex British white settler colonies on the other is all that much greater than the differences within the group.

    Here in Australia, there’s a constitutional guarantee of non-establishment and a prohibition on religious tests, but the High Court is of the view that you’d need to get very specific to break it, and it only applies to the federal government. Consequently, there’s a lot of co-operation between the government and various willing religious bodies on delivering services like education, hospitals and getting people into the workforce.

    Also, by and large, parliaments and courts have seen it as no particular burden to read and write into laws religious exceptions most of the time when there might be a conflict, so when NSW forbade discrimination against gay couples by adoption services, religious adoption services were exempted (when Victoria legalised abortion a few years ago, they required doctors who were not prepared to participate in an abortion to give a patient a referral to someone who was, and that was the religious exemption; the sky was supposed to fall and all hell break loose, but I haven’t yet noticed a single ghoul).

    The prinicple is, of course, that you don’t want to see what happens if you hold the government law up in the one hand, and religious law in the other, and say “pick one”; and a little of blindly following coping strategies from a more sectarian past.

    But how much longer can this continue for? I was talking to a middle-aged gay man the other day, who was talking about the people older than him, how they were sometimes heading to nursing homes. But the most affordable ones, sometimes the only affordable ones, are the Catholic ones. Sure they’ll take them—in separate rooms and beds. Unless someone else puts their hand up quickly, I suspect that the whole thing might come tumbling down.

    • March 22, 2014 9:25 pm

      Thanks much for the information on what things are like in Australia. I’ll have to admit my ignorance of your country is pretty great, and that includes what the religious and religious-civil scene is like. I do have some general sense of certain things, but few specifics. Do you see it generally tracking closer to the UK, to the US, Canada or what?

      • Felix Alexander permalink
        March 27, 2014 12:20 am

        Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I meant to, I’d written one, but it was long and waffly and didn’t say anything. So I forgot to make it more concise.

        tl;dr: I don’t know. The long form might give you some perspective about me.

        I’m afraid I don’t know. I don’t know anything at all about Canada, and I know very little about anything else. In general (i.e. not specifically religious terms), the left looks more to developments in England and Europe and copies them, while the right looks to and copies America.

        (Since I originally wrote that though, our right-wing prime minister reintroduced knighthoods and damehoods. So that means he was looking to New Zealand. Maybe he’ll copy their right-wing prime minister a second time and introduce gay marriage, but I’m not going to hold my breath.)

        In specifically religious terms, I don’t even know the local scene very well. I mostly read scriptures, books and blogs. I sometimes go to churches; I’m currently disentangling myself from a five-month stint and that’s the longest since I was a kid.

        I can’t add much about religious civil rights than what I said in the above comment. Maybe you could ask some more specific questons about what you’re trying to get at, though.

        • April 1, 2014 1:10 pm

          Thanks, Felix. I do find the “flow of influence” dynamics you mention interesting. Also that NZ apparently sees gay marriage as a conservative move, in at least some sense. A few American conservatives are beginning to say that as well. We might read that as just a face-saving way of giving in to the inevitably growing trend. But I do think it makes some sense… in terms of strengthening long-term bonds, which in turn does tend to stabilize societies. (I mean the positive aspects of stability here.) So it may be a genuine change of perspective, if conservatives in general start to think that way.

          I don’t have anything to add re. the church-state issues at the moment, though I will be adding a post or two on that and related points before long. E.g., I just heard Joerg Rieger speak and picked up his “Christ and Empire” book, which I can already tell is excellent, just through the intro. I will be doing a review of it hopefully in a couple weeks! If you can pick it up, or one of his more recent books, do it!

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