Page 3, 14th July 2006

14th July 2006
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Page 3, 14th July 2006 — Christians 'are real victims of discrimination'
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Christians 'are real victims of discrimination'

The Bishop of Motherwell launches a fierce attack on the Government over its attempts to legislate against sexual discrimination, reports Christina Farrell

A Surrrisa bishop has issued a blistering attack on the Government over its attempts to legislate against sexual discrimination in the workplace.

In a letter sent to parishes in his diocese Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell condemned proposals put forward in the consultation document, Getting Equal, and said that religious intolerance was masquerading as gay rights.

The document was published initially by the Department of Trade and Industry as the last stage of consultation for the Equality Act 2006, which seeks to prevent discrimination against homosexual men and women. Responsibility for the regulations has now passed to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

But Bishop Devine, who claims to support the rights of all minorities, said the document amounted to little more than a suppression of religious belief and he urged Christians to stand firm against the proposals. The Church, he warned, would not be silenced.

"Certainly minorities should be free to live in justice and peace," he said. "But it is Christians who are the real victims in today's society. Our values are mocked. Our truths are under constant threat ... Christians can be offended without limit."

The bishop said the regulations were a sinister attack on freedom of conscience and a menacing threat to all religious freedom. He accused the Government of forcing Christians to accept the equivalence of heterosexual marriage and homosexual partnerships.

"Faith schools are alarmed:" he added. "They are expected to relate Christian truth and values ... yet pointing out that homosexuality is contrary to the teachings of the Bible will bring them directly into conflict with the law ... No expression of religious belief on the matter would be tolerated."

The bishop said that regrettably Christians had been slow to face up to the "insidious erosion" of the place of religion in society.

"We have been complacent in defence of our faith and values," he said. "We must be more explicit about our faith and be proud of the cross. We are never stronger than when we are being persecuted."

The bishops of England and Wales also rejected the Government's proposals but adopted a rather more concil

iatory approach. In a ninepage response signed by Archbishop Peter Smith, chairman of the bishops' department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, the bishops expressed "serious rnisgiv ings" that the proposals failed to recognise the conflict of rights between religion and the law. The bishops said the proposals, even at this preliminary stage. did not strike a reasonable balance between the tights of people not to suffer discrimination because of their sexual conduct or lifestyle and the rights of religious organisations "to act in conformity with their religious beliefs and identity".

Supposed safeguards meant to exempt religious observance and practice from the legislation were also, they cautioned, too limited and would not protect the inherent Catholicity. of schools, charities and other organisations.

Moreover, they raised concerns that there was little recognition "of the difference between homophobia and a conviction, based on religious belief and moral conscience, that homosexual practice is wrong".

The crux of the bishops' argument has focused on Cherishing Life, a 2004 teaching document, which provides an authoritative summary of the Church's position on sexuality, marriage and homosexuality.

It states unequivocally that sexual intercourse finds its proper place and meaning only in marriage and does not share the assumption that every adult person needs to be sexually active. Furthermore it says that the Church has operated a degree of self-regulation in accordance with faith and practice laid down over the centuries.

The bishops argued that while parishes should always be places where people feel welcomed and supported. Catholic worship was already regulated by the universal law of the Church.

"In certain cases the law itself will restrict participation in the full sacramental life of the Church to those who are in full communion with the Church and whose lives and beliefs are at one with Catholic teaching." These are tenets that cannot be overridden by Government legislation, the bishops added.

If the proposals became law, Catholic parishes could find themselves renting parish halls and other Church property to organisations whose focus is in direct opposition to Church teaching. This, the bishops concluded, was unjust.

A Government spokesman said all the responses were being analysed and a response would be published in due course.




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