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Church leaders meet the minister over new gay rights law

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William Crawley | 16:39 UK time, Wednesday, 20 December 2006

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.


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.



  • 1.
  • At 05:25 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Jan Green (BELFAST) wrote:

Well if they feel so strongly about it, why ddidnt the church leaders take part int eh judicial review? Sounds like they are whingeing now that the horse has bolted.

  • 2.
  • At 10:54 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • pb wrote:

Hi Jan

They had already met with the minister earlier in the consultation. This was a follow up meeting.


  • 3.
  • At 01:10 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Jan Green (BELFAST) wrote:

Anyone know if the judge has ruled yet?

  • 4.
  • At 11:44 AM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Ian Hall wrote:

The classification of the Irish Methodists as a main church is highly questionable. While the census figures show Methodists at around 60,000 actual attendance is less than a third of that and on Sunday evenings there is a complete collapse.Can a denomination with only 15,000 active members really be classed as a main church ?

Interesting comment, Ian. The term "main church" is a curious one, for sure. There are quite a few churchgoers who object to the term, since it appears to exclude them. I'd be interested in what others think abou this. What language should be used? "The four larger churches?"

  • 6.
  • At 10:43 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • pb wrote:


Perhaps if they support the SOR they would be a main church but if they are opposed then they are not, as Craig might see it.

I think what Craig is really trying to do is to shrink the perceived significance of opposition from credible churches to the SOR.

Problem is, between the meetings of the four larger denominations with the minister and the seven groups involved in the judicial review, there are not a lot left, Craig.

But what does that matter, New Labour never let minor details like that stand in the way of another of their grand projects.


  • 7.
  • At 03:56 AM on 01 Jan 2007,
  • Craig Nelson wrote:

I have some difficulty understanding what the church groups are on about (whether in or out of the judicial review, which by thje way is a positive development as it will clarify the law).

In so far as they asking for all individual Christians to have a free choise as to whther they obey the law or not this seems much more like a spirit of lawlessness than is contained within the teaching of the New Testament which teaches people should obey the laws of the land.

To create a law where one can cite a religious conviction as a reason for being let off obeying it will obviously provide an instant defence for everyone wishing to break the law. It would render the law nugatory.

In so far as people need to be protected it seems to me that the regs actually go a long way to do so, but Christian groupings seem to be on a bit of a power trip and are keen to show the world that along with their allies in the DUP and Daily Mail they can dictate the laws of the land.

This is clearly not appropriate and I hope the Government makes laws for all people not just a minor section of society, however grandiose their claims may be to seek to lord it over the rest of us.

  • 8.
  • At 05:52 PM on 22 Jan 2007,
  • Maureen Longstaff wrote:

I am much in favour of the Christain Institute who are trying to uphold God's law, in this day and age, and I pray the Godly men in Government will see this and will prevail.

"There is much more at stake than the Catholic Adoption Agencies requested opt outs, important as they are.
"Once again this atheistic Government ignores the majority view to appease the militant minority. The Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR) were never about gay rights.
"No, the real agenda from this Government is about turning this nation into a secularist state and it was convenient to use these SORs as the first major step in doing so.
"This is part of a much wider and bigger agenda to eradicate Christianity from our society and its institutions.. These new regulations show no respect whatsoever for the beliefs and values of people of faith including Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews and other minority faiths who have different morals and values to atheist, aggressive liberal secularist and militant gay groups.
"I hope the faith communities will now mobilise against New Labour at the next general election who have now revealed their true colours and their hidden agenda. New Labour is obviously hell bent on forcing its secularist, now not so hidden agenda on the British people, whether they like it or not!"

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