Churches bringing warmth to the public square & Attorney General John Larkin taking exception to Supreme Court judgement against Christian B&B owners

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The Presbyterian Church in Ireland organised a conference yesterday looking at the Church in the Public Square. [Ed - not a new idea.] Two to three hundred people attended: ministers (both clerical and political), laity, as well as representatives from many organisations and faiths. Audio of the three keynote speakers is now available on the PCI website, and I’ll follow-up with a post over on Alan in Belfast in a day or two. In the meantime some snippets that might delight or frustrate Slugger readers.

Donald MacleodThe former principal of Free Church of Scotland College Rev Prof Donald Macleod – who hails from the Isle of Lewis – argued that the church should be in the centre of the public square and not lurking in the corner. He finished his talk by picking up on a definition of democracy and argued that if “the people are now the ruling class” then they need to be politically educated, and churches owe this education to their members.

The ballot box provides political power. Donald Macleod asked:

But how will they cast their vote? Will they cast it for the benefit of the educated, the successful, the affluent? Or cast it for those in the basement and for the submerged poor?

Do we ask not what can this government do for me, but what can it do for – generically – the poor? Harold Wilson said famously that elections are won or lost by the pound in your pocket. Is that a Christian’s vote? The people are now the ruling class. Your congregations belong to that ruling class.

Having worked to eliminate pauperism in Glasgow’s east end, Thomas Chalmers’ legacy in the city was summed up as: “He warmed it”.

And that perhaps is our calling as Christians, as the church, in the public square, to bring warmth into civic life. Not higher standards first and foremost, not law and order, not discipline, but warmth. Individuals and formal governance which are compassionate, which bring hope which bring love, which bring affirmation. You bear God’s image, you matter to God and you matter to us.

John Larkin QCAt the other end of the conference, Attorney General John Larkin QC delivered an address on the topic of rights. Having examined the ways in which rights are conveyed on people, and quoted widely from Aristotle, Aquinas, Isaiah, and European legislation, he turned his gaze to the recent British Supreme Court ruling which upheld a judgement against Christian guesthouse owners Mr & Mrs Bull who refused to provide accommodation to a gay couple.

Describing it as “a recent concrete example of where conflicting models of rights have been publicly examined in court”, Northern Ireland’s Attorney took exception to Baroness Hale’s judgement and launched a judicial broadside from the podium. It was a very deliberate section in his forty minute address – the Irish Times and News Letter picked up on it this morning – and I quote what he said at length.

Christians – and I think particularly in the period after Christmas – are, or should be, sensitive to the plight of persons who cannot find accommodation. It is one thing, I suppose, to find that there is no room at the inn. But disappointing as that may be, it is another to find that there is no room at the inn for you because of some characteristic that you possess.

In November of last year the UK Supreme Court held that Mr & Mrs Bull, a Christian couple who ran a small hotel, unlawfully discriminated against Mr Preddy and Mr Hall – a homosexual couple who’d booked overnight accommodation in the hotel – on the grounds of the sexual orientation of Mr Preddy and Mr Hall. It was held by the Supreme Court that the right of Mr & Mrs Bull to practice their Christian faith did not permit them to reserve double-bedded accommodation to married couples.

Bull & Hall is an immensely important case, and it is a very strong example of the clash of rights. The claim on one hand by Mr Preddy and Mr Hall founded in domestic law not to be discriminated against on the ground of their sexual orientation and on the other hand the right of Mr & Mrs Bull under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Section 6 of The Human Rights Act to manifest their religious beliefs in practice and observance …

For the purposes of this talk I want to focus on a single paragraph in the opinion of Baroness Hale. In paragraph 54 of her opinion in Bull against Hall Baroness Hail says this:

“There is no question of replacing “legal oppression of one community (homosexual couples) with legal oppression of another (those sharing the defendants’ beliefs). If Mr Preddy and Mr Hall ran a hotel which denied a double room to Mr & Mrs Bull, whether on the ground of their Christian beliefs or on the ground of their sexual orientation, they would find themselves in the same situation that Mr and Mrs Bull find themselves today.”

If these words are intended by Baroness Hale to be reassuring to Christians I do not think their intended outcome is likely to be achieved. What is striking in the passage I’ve just quoted is, it seems to me, the extent of the failure to understand the orthodox Christian position.

I don’t know if Mr & Mrs Bull serve meals in their establishment. But if they did so, and if they were to refuse to serve food for example to Mr Preddy and Mr [Hall] on the grounds of their sexual orientation that would be not only unlawful I think – it’s a matter of domestic law – but also incapable I think of moral justification.

On the other hand, a Christian who wishes to adhere to traditional Christian moral principles cannot without committing serious sin make available premises to facilitate a purpose which that Christian believes to be gravely sinful. To do so, a Christian believes, is to be complicit in the sin that one thereby facilitates.

[This argument of course assumes that hotel owners believe that every couple occupying a hotel room with a double bed – no matter their sexuality – will definitely have sex in it rather than just fall soundly asleep. How gravely sinful is it to suspect something might happen some of the time but not to be sure how often? Perhaps it just is ...]

In the passage that I’ve just quoted from Baroness Hale she offers in fact a false equivalence. And she does not appear to appreciate the nature of the Christian objection.

A homosexual couple who ran a hotel would not be troubled on some philosophical ground connected with their homosexuality at the thought of a Christian married couple occupying a room in their hotel. A homosexual couple who ran a hotel would endanger neither their orientation nor any belief connected to it by having a Christian couple occupying a room in their hotel.

On the other hand, for a Christian couple to make accommodation which they consider ought to be reserved for married couples available to unmarried couples does violence to their beliefs and makes them complicit in what they regard as deeply sinful.

Taking the matter outside the fraught area of sexual orientation the question might simply be asked: if a Christian couple who refuse to let the boyfriend or girlfriend of one of their children share a room with them in the family home or – taking it further – a holiday home, including perhaps a holiday home available for commercial letting, should they be permitted to do so …

It strikes me that in a society such as ours in which there are many beliefs and interests that we ought to be capable of having a better go at reconciling them. For myself I see no reason why some boor for his won obscure reasons doesn’t like homosexual people should be able to deny services to them as an expression of his own dislike. The law prohibits such a denial of services and in my view, rightly so.

On the other hand I do believe that a Christian in business should not be placed in a position – a position in which he is now it seems placed – by the Supreme Court decision in Bull & Hall in which she or he must choose between either withdrawing from business or becoming complicit in what a Christian must regard as deeply sinful.

In my view, if the legislature were following due reflection to give weight to the right of Christians and other persons of faith to manifest their beliefs in their businesses and professions subject to a general public order limitation – I don’t for example think that followers of Mithra should be able to slaughter bulls publicly in the high street then that is likely in my view to be entirely consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.

John Larkin went on to suggest that the delegates “see courts as part of government and not as some collective of saintly NGOs”!

The Attorney General steered his speech in the Presbyterian Assembly Hall around the final corner with the words:

Let me commend to you the following as a statement of correct principle.

“Individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate. An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties.”

That came from Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter Charity and Truth I don’t of course commend it to this body as Papal teaching, but as reasonable and I suggest readily confirmable by our own daily experience.

As a lawyer and not a theologian John Larkin finished his speech with a quote from Ulpian about the central precepts of law:

To Live honestly. To harm no one. And to give each person what is due to him.

Human rights from the second century.

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  • cynic2

    ” Christians – and I think particularly in the period after Christmas – are, or should be, sensitive to the plight of persons who cannot find accommodation.”

    Except nuns running childrens’ homes?????

    “ it seems to me, the extent of the failure to understand the orthodox Christian position.”

    Do you mean the hypocrisy where many clergy are gay but the churches dare not admit it?

    “On the other hand, a Christian who wishes to adhere to traditional Christian moral principles cannot without committing serious sin make available premises to facilitate a purpose which that Christian believes to be gravely sinful. ”

    But the Catholic church did that for generations in permitting the continuing sexual assault of children and physical abuse on their premises. Other churches failed in this too but never in such a cold hearted pervasive manner. So does it depend what sinful activities one selects to allow under ones roof

    In the passage that I’ve just quoted from Baroness Hale she offers in fact a false equivalence. And she does not appear to appreciate the nature of the Christian objection.

    ” On the other hand, for a Christian couple to make accommodation which they consider ought to be reserved for married couples available to unmarried couples does violence to their beliefs and makes them complicit in what they regard as deeply sinful.”

    But as i understand that case they weren’t worried that they were married ..they were worried that they were gay

    “On the other hand I do believe that a Christian in business should not be placed in a position – a position in which he is now it seems placed – by the Supreme Court decision in Bull & Hall in which she or he must choose between either withdrawing from business or becoming complicit in what a Christian must regard as deeply sinful.”

    You are entitled to your belief but Parliament has said otherwise

  • http://alaninbelfast.blogspot.com Alan in Belfast

    cynic2 – you slightly miss the point …

    > You are entitled to your belief but Parliament has said otherwise

    John Larkin didn’t deny how Parliament had legislated. He was addressing the conflict of rights between the UK’s own law and the European Convention on Human Rights

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    Not a lot of warmth in John Larkin’s attitude to God’s creation. Perhaps we had naively assumed that the era of ‘no dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ was behind us and that irrational prejudices would no longer be tolerated in a civilised society.

    Would it be OK for instance for a devout catholic guest house owner to demand that condoms not be used under their roof? Or muslim owners to search luggage for alcohol?

    Nothing new of course in churches playing catch up with society. Not so long ago we were all cowering in horror at the possibilities of divorce, contraception and co-habitation becoming commonplace. Religious institutions fought tooth and nail to safeguard such morality, while facilitating infintely worse in their own back yard.

    But the sky didn’t fall in and the churches grudgingly accept that fighting against the above, in the west at least, is an exercise in futility. Likewise the fact that the bible condemns tattoos, eating shellfish and wearing clothes of mixed fibre has had to be quietly overlooked, lest a laughing stock is created. But apparently there’s still room for some good old fashioned homophobia.

    Never mind that a considerable minority are born homosexuals, never mind that guest house owners cannot prove that two men or women are gay or that they will engage in any sexual act under their roof — apparently if there is reasonable excuse to reinforce a prejudice, then that’s fair enough.

    And let’s not pretend that religious attitudes to homosexuality are anything more than prejudice, simply part of a pick and mix attitude to a supposedly holy book.

    If the religious don’t like homosexuality, then they shouldn’t have gay sex. What other consenting adults choose to do, whether in a guest house or anywhere else, is quite simply none of their business.

  • carlota martinez

    Happily John Larkin is very much in the minority in his attitude to Bull v Hall.

    This decision has attracted no significant negative comment from either academic or practicing lawyers. It is widely regarded as a correct interpretation of the law.

    John Larkin is dancing on the head of a pin and does the office he holds no credit in attempting to find a logical or coherent basis to criticise this decision.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    From the AG’s website, the AG is responsible for the “Appointment of the Director and Deputy Director of the Public Prosecutions Service for Northern Ireland “.
    In exercising that authority, might Larkin be looking towards a person who is reluctant to bring such discrimination before the Court?
    If, once again, he seems to be setting himself above the law as it stands, he should resign from this appointed position and stand for elected office.

  • son of sam

    Mister Joe
    Surely the Director is responsible for the conduct of criminal prosecutions in N Ireland and would have no input regarding the issues arising from the Supreme Court judgement.

  • Charles_Gould

    I understand that he went to St Mary’s, now as I have been told the people there are thought to speak their minds,… Just a theory.

  • Framer

    Larkin has more than a point about the increasing restrictions on Christians by law and regulation and the failure to balance them with the European Convention’s other (conflicting) rights. That and the sneering attitude by liberals (and the BBC) to attempted censorship by fundamentalists who at the same time would not dream of showing a cartoon of the Prophet for fear of offending adherents of another religion. Or is it cowardice?
    The law that did for the Bulls does allow exemption for those who run guest houses within their own dwellings so the AG’s example is not the best.
    Majoritarianism defeated is inevitably replaced by the former minority becoming majoritarian in turn. Such is life.

  • Charles_Gould

    Should keep in mind that people who went to St Marys – the school Larkin went to – have a reputation for being outspoken.

  • Newman

    The failure to appreciate the simple point the AG was making in most of the blogs above confirms the concept of invincible ignorance. Post modernism has given us a new morality emerging out of the sexual revolution. That morality is now policed and enforced by the courts under the rubric of equality. Those who adhere to a traditional view of marriage for instance struggle for space in the public square and their views are often barely tolerated if manifested at all. The irony i that it is the so called enlightened. the metropolitan elite and the libertarians who disdain any credo apart from their own who now reveal the greatest intolerance. If anyone dares to suggest that the fruit of this new morality has wreaked chaos in our society they are lambasted as Neandrethal bigots. The level of debate and analysis is risible.A respectful conversation might bring at least a modus vivendi

  • Granni Trixie

    Newman

    Would you by any chance be any relation to the AG? I say this as he used to edit a publication called The Newman Review. Plus you capture his tone.

    I could be wrong…..

  • carl marks

    Charles_Gould
    Which St Marys,
    My Daughters went to the one in M/Felt and one fell out with the RE teacher for speaking her mind, the RE teacher phoned me and said she was refusing to believe (this may sound fantastic but true I swear) in what she was being told.
    I was so proud of my youngest girl’s character that I treated her to some new? Vinyl (she discovered LPs a few years ago) now she goes to Slemish Collage and has been accepted by Exeter for an Astrophysics/ maths course.
    Must thank that little super taig teacher some day

  • carl marks

    Newman
    If anyone dares to suggest that the fruit of this new morality has wreaked chaos in our society they are lambasted as Neandrethal bigots

    must have missed it, what chaos has been wreaked then
    pray tell?

  • Charles_Gould

    Carl
    Slemish, was it a good experience for yr daughter, I’ve seen them getting good results, and the head teacher is enthusiastic.

    Anyhow, it’s the st Mary’s in w belfast that has a reputation for producing outspoken people.

  • Charles_Gould

    Carl
    By the way congrats, I’m always impressed by people who do maths at uni, takes brains.

  • carl marks

    Charles_Gould
    i would happily recomend it and she loves it.

  • Granni Trixie

    The St Mary’s referred to is a Christian Brothers grammar up the glen road in WB. It produced a great debating team one of which included the AG.

  • Seamuscamp

    Mr Larkin is wrong to elevate Mr & Mrs Bull’s prejudices to the level of an article of Christian faith.
    1 Homosexuality is not of itself sinful – it is classified by the Church as a “disorder”.
    2 St Matthew’s Gospel tells us not to judge others and “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
    3 Where the Bulls go wrong is assuming that because homosexuals share a bed they must be conducting some sort of perversion. Ultimately, that is what makes their “beliefs” no more than prejudices.
    4 The peculiar nature of the Bulls prejudices is shown by the fact that they allow homosexual couples or unmarried heterosexual couples to share rooms with single beds; thus making double beds a sort of Christian sacramental. Maybe the Bulls think it isn’t possible to have sex in a single bed. (In this also they are wrong.)

    There is no doubt that Baroness Hale’s judgement was not expressed with her usual clear clarity. It might even be that she is right for the wrong reasons. Mr Larkin, on the other hand, expresses himself very clearly and is clearly wrong. If I decide that a particular law offends my personal conscience, I can break that law – but suffer the consequences.

  • Newman

    Trixi..For the record no relation

    Carl..Rising divorce affecting children massively.often arising because of a self centred autonomous view of marriage;
    Exponential increase in sexually transmitted diseases;
    Abortion used as a form of contraception and can now include reasons such as gender;
    Sex increasingly commodified;

    Just for starters

  • carl marks

    Rising divorce, another way of looking at this people are no longer trapped in a relationship which in the cases of many women meant rape, beatings and economic slavery surely that’s a good thing.
    Increase in STDs umm maybe your right but I would like to see stats and proof that it caused by the liberalism of homosexuality.
    Abortion again please supply figures,
    Sex commodified, what I think you mean here is women having more control over their sexual activity, sex has always been commodified (is that a real word) in the old morality if a women wasn’t a virgin and not married she was a slut, thank god that has changed.
    And that not forget that the good old days had a lot of things about its morality which was hardly moral, if you get what I mean.

  • carl marks

    oh and wreaked chaos is a bit melodramatic dont you think and we have closed the laundrys for good reason.

  • Charles_Gould

    Newman

    People are having more sex, in situations where it’s a few choice, and gay people in high schools can now come out. And get the type of sex they like. These have got to be good things.

  • Newman

    Your sole criterion for judgment is preserving choice and autonomy and predicated on the view that sex is the only thing that truly matters..a pretty soulless and selfish philosophy..there is more to life …we are more than just sexual beings. This obsession with sex and freedom to have it anywhere with any consenting adult without consequence is myopic and a recent social experiment. The real losers are our children who can be safely relegated to a subordinate role, forced to bear the consequences of the greater importance of the imperative of escaping a difficult relationship. We used to believe in self sacrifice, duty, virtue, keeping our promises, serving the common good. This is now all of secondary concern sacrificed on the alter of choice, autonomy so called freedom self fulfilment “my” needs. You may see this as human advancement I view it as narcissistic and uninspiring.

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    Newman, I would contend that the ‘obsession with sex’ has been on the part of the churches, particularly the catholic one. I’ve never understood how a bunch of bachelors in frocks could presume to lecture the rest of us on sexual matters, particularly given the appalling sexual crimes facilitated for decades by themselves.

    Divorce has myriad causes — in many cases, children are better off away from a violent, rowing, unhappy marriage.

    And the ‘freedom to have sex with any consenting adult’ is something which should be welcomed as a matter of personal choice, a choice which it should be said, many prefer to limit to one or two lifetime partners. Why should people be denied that choice?
    Was it really better in the ‘good old days’ when unmarried mothers were demonised, homosexuals criminalised and abortions carried out on a kitchen table? When women were expected to produce and care for a dozen or more children in grinding poverty?

    What you describe as ‘duty, virtue and serving the common good’ was often a mask for vile abuse, suffering and misogny. What we have now is far from perfect, but I’ll take it over those times any day.

  • http://alaninbelfast.blogspot.com Alan in Belfast

    Since we’re dangerously off-topic already – as the owner of a dusty applied maths degree I propose a big cheer for all the maths lovers out there …

    Now back to the post’s topic which was the church’s role in the public square and the Attorney General’s opinion of the Supreme Court case … which Joshua Rosenberg described on Sunday Sequence this morning [58 minutes 16 seconds from the start] as “unseemly”

  • Taoiseach

    Gerry Lvs Castro – you wrote “Would it be OK for instance for a devout catholic guest house owner to demand that condoms not be used under their roof? Or muslim owners to search luggage for alcohol?”.

    No, but should Catholics be required to provide condoms and Muslims be required to provide alcohol? That’s the equivalent to the provision of a bed in this case.

  • Charles_Gould

    Taoiseach

    “No, but should Catholics be required to provide condoms and Muslims be required to provide alcohol? That’s the equivalent to the provision of a bed in this case.”

    Not necessarily.

    Eric Morcombe and Ernie Wise used to share a double bed in their scenes without any suggestion of anything strange. And so did Eric and Ernie on Sesame Street:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh7RbjHqs_g

    As did Rod, Jane, and Freddie in ITV’s children’s TV show, Rainbow.

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    Taoiseach

    A bed in a guest house is a basic requirement — it is not equivalent to the optional extras of condoms or alcohol.

    Guest house owners provide a paid service to the public. Refusing customers on the grounds of race, disability or conspicuous religious persausion would be unacceptable and rightly so. Why therefore should it be acceptable for owners to turn away couples they suspect may be gay?