Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Further "Christian" attacks

The fundamentalist Christians (despite the claim that this is a multifaith movement, it is clearly overwhelmingly led by marginal Christian groups) have lost the vote last night for the annulment of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006, but one can certainly expect a repeat of the farce in the coming months as the regulations are extended to the rest of the country.

Already, a Judicial Review has been launched into the way the regulations were brought to Northern Ireland.
On Monday 18 December the High Court in Belfast granted leave for a judicial review of the Sexual Orientation Regulations (Northern Ireland) and set a hearing date for March.

The legal action was taken by The Christian Institute and five Christian denominations from Northern Ireland representing 15,000 Christians in the Province. It argues that the Sexual Orientation Regulations interfere with the rights of religious groups to act according to their religious beliefs under the Human Rights Act, and that the public consultation process was flawed.

The centrepiece of the Northern Ireland regulations is a special harassment provision. Under the new law churches or charities can be sued for harassment if they create an "offensive environment" for gays. The definition is so loosely drafted that critics fear that public disagreement with gay rights or homosexual practice could easily be construed as 'harassment'. In addition, under the regulations, the burden of proof is reversed so that those accused are guilty until proved innocent.
[from the Christian Institute website]
There were 1,710,300 inhabitants in the Province according to the 2004 estimate, most of whom are at least nominally Christian. 15,000 people (even if the figure is true) hardly constitutes a majority.

The paragraph on harassment appears to be rather economical with the truth. Having read the relevant passage of the regulations, it seems to me (bearing in ming that I am no lawyer) that harrassment is not solely taking place through the "creation of "an offensive environment" for gays" but when
(3)A person ("A") subjects another person ("B") to harassment in any circumstances relevant for the purposes of any provision referred to in these Regulations where, on the ground of sexual orientation, A engages in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of —

(a) violating B's dignity; or

(b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.
This seems altogether different and more serious to me.

As for the reversed burden of proof, it does indeed seem to be required by the regulations and it seem to be going against the observance of the presumption of innocence as defined by the Human Rights Act 1998, Article 6(2) of the European Convention (now the source of English law). However, it seems that it is a fairly common legal practice endorsed by a decision of the House of Lords in Johnstone [2003] UKHL 37.
Article 6(2) did not stand alone, observed the House of Lords: it was subsumed within the guarantee of fair trial provided by Article 6 as a whole. A reverse burden did not necessarily preclude a fair trial. It could, as was the case for the trademark offence considered in Johnstone, be a proportionate response to a serious and current social or commercial mischief.[reference]
On the same page, the Institute asks: "why should a homosexual rights protestor have legal powers to sue a Church minister for what he says about Church membership?". he shouldn't and he won't. The regulations include a so-called doctrinal exemption which means that religous organisations can (justly) discriminate in the provision of religious services and that includes membership or any non-commercial activity undertaken by the group within the limits of it religious action.[see the relevant section of the regulations].

Case dismissed, methinks...

In the meantime,
a criminal action for blasphemy against Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, and producer Jonathan Thoday has begun in respect of Jerry Springer the Opera.

Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, laid information before Horseferry Road Magistrates this morning, Monday 8th January 2007. It is two years to the day since the broadcast of the musical on BBC2 and six months to the day from when it finished its tour in Brighton last year.
[from a press release by Christian Voice]
Are they never going to let up and spend their energy, time and money to some worthwhile charitable cause, like helping save the dying african children the Christian woman I talked with last night at the demonstration got so emotional about?

Further reading:
* Faith groups are misrepresenting sexual equality rules, say critics, Ekklesia.
* Anti-gay rights activists do not represent most religious opinion, say critics
* Discrimination law controversy By Jon Silverman, BBC Legal affairs analyst

Previous Posts:
* Sexual Orientation Regulations - The Demo
* Anti-Freedom Demo Today Outside Parliament
* Sexual Orientation Regulations, Letter To Ruth Kelly
* Sexual Orientation Regulations, The Saga Continues
* Anti-Gay Christians Strike Again - Part 2
* Anti-Gay Christians Strike Again

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