Church leaders meet the minister over new gay rights law
Mr Justice Deeny will hear arguments tomorrow on the judicial review, in respect of the new goods, facilities and services regulations, brought by seven Christian organisations, including The Christian Institute and the Caleb Foundation. The four main churches are not part of that legal challenge, but the four church leaders met yesterday with the Northern Ireland minister David Hanson to raise their own concerns. The church leaders' delegation comprised the Presbyterian Moderator, Dr David Clarke, the Methodist President, Rev Ivan McElhinney, Bishop Alan Harper and Fr Tim Bartlett. The meeting is described by their press liaison, Stephen Lynas, as "open and frank". They issued the following statement earlier today.
CHURCH LEADERS MEET MINISTER TO DISCUSS SEXUAL ORIENTATION REGULATIONS
Senior Church Representatives from the Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland and Methodist denominations met with Minister of State Mr David Hanson yesterday, Tuesday 19 December, to discuss the Sexual Orientation Regulations and how they apply to Churches.
Following the meeting the Church Leaders issued the following statement today, Wednesday 20 December.
We appreciated yesterday¹s (Tuesday 19 December) opportunity to discuss with Mr Hanson the implications of the Sexual Orientation Regulations. This follows an earlier meeting with his officials in September during the consultation period.
In an open and frank discussion lasting about one hour we stressed that all our Churches respect and would seek to protect the civil, political, social and religious rights of all persons irrespective of sexual orientation and welcomed progress on such an agenda. However under the principle of equality the rights and religious freedom of those with Christian belief must be similarly protected.
We welcomed assurances that the regulations would not impinge on the doctrines and practises of our various denominations, including the right of teachers to present Christian doctrine and morals in schools. We also noted the various exceptions within the regulations for religious organisations.
However, these exceptions do not apply to individual Christians, nor are we convinced that they cover all circumstances in which the Churches will have to be guided by their doctrinal standards or the sincerely held convictions of a significant proportion of their adherents. We are concerned that the Courts will be involved in deciding what is acceptable doctrine. This, of course, will not only apply to those with Christian belief but other faith groups also.
Also, we were not adequately assured that our concerns in relation to services provided by our Churches as part of our Christian witness were fully met. These include the provision of faith based adoption services, care of older people, education and marriage counseling. We welcome the invitation to discuss these in greater detail with departmental officials.
We note that within the Westminster parliamentary process there will be some limited debate and a vote on these regulations in the early New Year. We call on our politicians to fully engage in this debate in order to ensure a balance of rights for all, including the protection of freedom of religion and individual conscience as part of a diverse and plural society in which everyone may feel an equal member.
We also expressed concern over the short time given for consultation on proposed legislation in Northern Ireland and that, although similar legislation in England is being reconsidered, it will be imposed on Northern Ireland using direct rule powers despite the many objections of churches and other groups. We were assured that when similar legislation in introduced in Great Britain any differences between the regulations between there and Northern Ireland will be addressed.
ISSUED BY STEPHEN LYNAS, PRESBYTERIAN INFORMATION SERVICE, ON BEHALF OF THE FOUR CHURCH LEADERS