Eunice and Owen Johns are a God-fearing Christian couple, married almost 40 years, who offered a secure and loving family home to foster children aged between five and 10. But they are to be denied the opportunity to do so any longer because they are unwilling to promote a homosexual lifestyle to a child. Neither Mr nor Mrs Johns has anything against gay people but they are not in favour of sex before marriage, whatever an individual's orientation. Their views were denounced by Ben Summerskill, of the homosexual pressure group Stonewall, as "old-fashioned". Yet not that long ago they would have been considered mainstream and they are, in any case, the strongly held religious views of the couple.
The reason that they were even asked about their views on homosexuality was because Parliament passed the Sexual Orientation Regulations, making it an offence to discriminate on the grounds that someone is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. These are the same laws under which Peter and Hazelmary Bull, Christian owners of a guest house, were fined last month for refusing to let a gay couple share a room. But in the case of Mr and Mrs Johns, where is the victim? They were not turning anyone away. Quite the contrary – they were offering a home to children who will otherwise end up in care, and there are precious few people who will. Furthermore, since the children would be aged under 10, matters of sexuality are hardly relevant – or is it being suggested that they should be? Astonishingly, the High Court suggested that it was not so much their Christian faith as the moral certainties of the Johns that were potentially harmful to children.
There is another troubling aspect of this case. Equality laws are supposed to uphold the rights to religious belief. Yet the High Court ruled that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation "should take precedence" over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds. Why has it been left to judges to decide whose rights trump those of others? This should have been decided by Parliament but, yet again, another sloppily drafted measure will have far-reaching consequences for freedom of conscience in this country. Already the Roman Catholic Church has had to close its adoption agencies because they cannot conform to the law. Perhaps there is a historical irony here, because we are witnessing a modern, secular Inquisition – a determined effort to force everyone to accept a new set of orthodoxies or face damnation as social heretics if they refuse. Parliament and the courts should protect people like Mr and Mrs Johns, but have thrown them to the wolves. It is a disgrace.
Melanie Phillips has a fine piece in The Spectator about the case:
The secular inquisition against Christians was ratcheted up another notch yesterday in a grotesque judgment in the High Court by two judges, who have upheld the ban against a couple from fostering children simply because they hold traditional Christian views about homosexuality.
The implications of this judgment are utterly appalling on many levels. The couple involved, Eunice and Owen Johns, are upstanding, traditional people whose quality of care for the twenty or so children they have fostered is not in doubt. At a time when is estimated that there is a need for another 10,000 foster carers, one might have thought the Johns would be treated as gold dust. Nor have they even prevented any homosexuals from having or doing anything. Their crime is simply to believe it is wrong to promote a homosexual lifestyle to a child in their care because they take the view that sex outside marriage is wrong.
Yet for that view – which not long ago was a normative moral position – Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson have agreed that they must be banned from fostering any further children. They are being banned simply because they have views of which these judges disapprove.
Such a ruling is, first, utterly illiberal and intolerant. Second, in its shallowness and secular bias it is ridiculous. For the judges actually said that there was no place in law for Christian beliefs – that Britain was a ‘largely secular’, multi-cultural country in which the laws of the realm ‘do not include Christianity’.
As the former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali said, this was absurd:
He pointed out the monarch took a coronation oath promising to uphold the laws of God, while Acts of Parliament are passed with the consent of ‘the Lords Spiritual’, and the Queen’s Speech finishes with a blessing from Almighty God. ‘To say that this is a secular country is certainly wrong,’ he said.
‘However, what really worries me about this spate of judgments is that they leave no room for the conscience of believers of whatever kind. This will exclude Christians, Muslims and Orthodox Jews from whole swaths of public life, including adoption and fostering.’
Later in the article she notes that during the process, it was actually suggested that they could be sent for "re-education."
This is creepy and sick. It is also intolerant and discriminatory. The liberal rhetoric of universal human rights in which this whole cultural Marxist attack on the Church and the traditional family is cloaked is simply not credible; it is nothing but a mask for the real agenda, which is totalitarian.
In these circumstances, terms such as ‘totalitarian’ or ‘Orwellian’ are no exaggeration. During the case, there was an implication that the Johns should in effect have their brains re-programmed:
During the case, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, an official watchdog, suggested that the couple could attend a ‘re-education’ programme, according to Mrs Johns. ‘Why do we need to be re-educated? Because we believe that homosexuality is not right?’ she said.
Ed Feser has some interesting comments on the case on his blog as well. He isn't buying the idea that this is really liberal, unless you re-define liberal to mean something like "intolerant dogmatism," which rather makes a hash out of normal communication:
Liberalism, we are told, is neutral between the diverse moral, religious, and philosophical points of view competing within a pluralistic society. Or at least, it is neutral between the “reasonable” ones. And which views are the “reasonable” ones? Why, the ones willing to conform themselves to liberalism, of course! As I’ve argued in several places, such “neutrality” is completely phony, though you don’t really need much in the way of argument to see that – it is blindingly obvious to everyone except liberals themselves. (You can find my fullest statement on this issue here. The immediate target of the paper linked to is one particular version of liberalism – libertarianism – but as its discussion of Rawls makes evident, the points it makes apply to liberalism generally. See also, from National Review, my reviews of Amy Gutmann’s Identity in Democracy and of David Lewis Schaefer’s Illiberal Justice: John Rawls vs. the American Political Tradition.)
The BBC brings news of the latest illustration of the fraudulence of liberal “neutrality,” as a Christian couple is denied the right to become foster parents because of their disapproval of homosexual behavior – all in the name of “non-discrimination,” naturally. As BBC News religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott sums up the court’s decision, “the court discriminated between kinds of Christianity, saying that Christians in general might well make good foster parents, while people with traditionalist Christian views like Mr and Mrs Johns might well not” (emphasis mine). And there you have it. Liberals never try to impose their views on you – as long as you agree to be a liberal too. All views are equal, but some are more equal than others. Four legs good, two legs better.