Christian freedoms are under increasing attack in today’s society from so-called human rights and religious vilification laws, London barrister Mark Mullins warned Australian audiences recently.
By MARK MULLINS
MY experience over the last year or so has been to see, within the United Kingdom, that the increasing influence of equality legislation is having a negative impact on the ability of Christians to live out their lives with a clear conscience.
I fear that the reality is that our politicians wish to see a privatisation of religion so that all members of society accept the Government’s moral code in the name of diversity and multiculturalism.
Up until recently it has been the argument of the homosexual lobby that changes to the law (including the repeal of a law to ban local authorities from promoting the teaching in schools that homosexual couples are to be treated as a pretended family unit; the reduction of the age of consent from 18 to 16; and the legalisation of same-sex adoption) have been needed in order to promote tolerance of their lifestyle, on the grounds that their rights should be recognised.
However, consistent with this demand, should be a recognition of the rights of those who do not accept this lifestyle to be entitled to act in accordance with their conscience.
Recently, however, anti-discrimination regulations on the grounds of sexual orientation have come into force in Britain. They represent a further worrying development because they now place Christians—who cannot in conscience provide certain goods and services to homosexuals—on the wrong side of the law.
It goes without saying that Christians, as a general rule, will treat those of a different sexual orientation in the same way as any other non-Christian neighbour. However, the difficulty comes when a Christian is required to provide a service that requires them implicitly to accept or even appear to condone their behaviour.
Let me give you some examples:
• A Christian registrar cannot refuse to register a civil partnership.
• A doctor is not allowed to refuse to approve same-sex adoptions.
• A bed-and-breakfast owner or Christian hotelier is not allowed to refuse to provide a double-bed to a same-sex couple.
• Religious adoption agencies, receiving government funding, and accounting for only 8 per cent of UK adoptions, will not, in about a year, be able to refuse to allow same-sex couples to adopt children.
There has been a recent challenge to the Northern Ireland version of these regulations. Two important results came from that challenge.
Provisions outlawing harassment on grounds of sexual orientation were struck down: they would have allowed an individual to bring a complaint if his dignity had been violated. The judge found that these provisions were too widely drawn and would conflict with freedom of speech and religion.
It was also held that there were limits to what a person should be required to do where it involved a direct conflict with his religious beliefs.
In July 2004, I was sent a brief requiring me to represent a homosexual male seeking to join his homosexual partner in the UK under the immigration rules which allow for a person who has been in a relationship akin to marriage for two years to join his partner in the UK provided they could show that they intended to continue the homosexual relationship and were able to meet the financial and housing requirements.
I felt that I could not represent this person because to do so would involve me facilitating the continuation of sinful conduct. The Bible tells us to take no part in another man’s sins (1 Timothy 5:22). By representing him in court I considered that this was just what I would be doing: I would be putting forward a case for him to be allowed to continue his sinful conduct by demonstrating that he had been engaged in this relationship for the last two years, that this relationship was permanent and should be allowed to continue. I would therefore have been a party to his sinful conduct.
I found another barrister to do the case which he went on to win. However, the solicitors brought a complaint against me that I had discriminated on the grounds of the person’s sexual orientation.
The Bar Council took up the prosecution and added further charges. The other relevant charge was that I had broken the cab-rank rule by refusing a brief in a case, in which I was capable of acting. They also claimed that I had provided an inadequate professional service by failing to read the papers sooner.
The hearing took place last July and was heard by a retired judge, two barristers, and two distinguished lay-persons. The judgment made interesting reading. I was acquitted of providing an inadequate service but convicted of sexual-orientation discrimination and breaching the cab-rank rule.
The court did not consider that my rights to freedom of religion had been interfered with because, even though the immigration rule had come into force after I became a barrister, I had always been subject to the cab-rank rule.
It was a pleasant surprise to be told by the tribunal that it was a tragedy the case had come before them and that I was a man of the highest integrity. They sentenced me to a reprimand.
The signal seems to be that the tribunal did not consider that the case should have come before them; but, as it had, they had no option but to find me guilty. However, they would impose the least sanction they felt they could in the circumstances.
Consider the case of Christian magistrate Andrew McClintock who, on January 24, 2007, became the first “judge” in the UK to take the Lord Chancellor to court in an unprecedented employment tribunal in Sheffield.
Andrew McClintock, 63, who has served 18 years on the South Yorkshire bench, stated that he was forced to resign as a member of the family panel after 15 years of service, as court managers failed to make reasonable accommodation of his relig-ious and philosophical beliefs. Mr McClin-tock is a married father of four, with four grandchildren.
Since the implementation of the UK’s Adoption and Children Act 2002, same-sex couples now have the legal right to be treated as equal to married couples in their bid to be awarded care of children. Mr McClintock told court managers that this statutory requirement conflicted with the legal requirements placed on him to act in the best interests of a child; he did not believe a child’s best interests would be served by being brought up by a same-sex couple.
The employment tribunal rejected Mr McClintock’s claim that he had been discrim-inated against because of his religious beliefs.
The case is on appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
But the problems do not just stop in the professions. Our universities are now the next battleground for Christian freedom. We must of course remember that today’s students are tomorrow’s political leaders, and what happens in the universities today may well reflect what will be happening throughout the country in 20 years.
• At Exeter University the Christian Union was suspended from the guild of students after the guild claimed that the CU constitution and activities did not conform with its equal opportunities policies. The CU was told it could only be reinstated if it agreed to waive any restrictions on membership.
• Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, is refusing Heriot-Watt CU’s application to affiliate to the student union on the basis that membership of the CU is restricted to those who are able to sign the declaration of faith.
The university and student union are targeting Christian students who simply want to have the same rights as any other university society, to freely meet, self-define and elect leadership.
• Edinburgh University, following pressure from the campus’s Gay & Lesbian Society, banned the university Christian Union from running its PURE course, which presents the biblical basis of personal relationships. After originally being banned, the Christian Union has now been told it can run the course, but that the university should be free to put material representing a different view in the room where they meet. Such restrictions are not being imposed on other societies within the university. For example, homosexual and lesbian groups are not being forced to promote Christian views on sexual purity.
This case once again highlights how Christianity is being afforded only second-class status, and religious rights are being trumped by rights relating to a homosexual lifestyle.
The trend we are seeing in the UK is being repeated throughout the world.
By contrast, the British Labour Government launched a report on June 4, 2007, initiated by Bill Rammell, Minister of State for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning in the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), that recommended the following:
1) Universities should employ Muslim scholars to teach Islamic theology.
2) All universities must employ Muslim chaplains or advisers to deal with the growing number of Muslim students on campus. More prayer rooms for Muslims should be provided.
3) Islamic student societies should be better recognised and encouraged.
4) Universities should co-operate with Islamic schools and colleges (dar al-ulum) to break down the divisions between British society and the Muslim community. Universities should help madrassas and dar al-ulum  because they play a key role in Muslim communities and in the training of future community leaders. They need a formal link to higher education qualifications.
5) Islamic studies should be linked to job opportunities such as teaching, chaplaincy and Islamic banking.
6) Universities should provide add-on modules in Islamic studies for all students.
7) Guidance should be given to all universities on Friday prayers, Ramadan and halal food. All university staff should receive awareness-training on Muslims and Islam.
An analysis of these recommendations reveals that the report is in fact asking for a privileged position for Islam in the universities. It would seem to aim at transforming Islamic studies in Britain into a Muslim monopoly, a Muslim enclave in which the vast majority of staff and students are Muslim.
It is implied that non-Muslim scholars cannot teach Islam because they do not unquestioningly accept its basic premises regarding the revelatory nature and divine authority of Qur’an and hadith. Should these premises be accepted, the teaching faculty will be limited to traditional Muslim and Islamist lecturers.
Should this report be implemented, education will be handed over more and more to Muslims, who will train and shape the next generation. This means a further move towards the establishment of Islam in the UK as a religion of state.
This article is an abridged version of a speech that English barrister Mark Mullins delivered to the Australian Family Association in Melbourne on September 25, 2007. He was then acting on a brief to bring a criminal action for blasphemy against the BBC for broadcasting Jerry Springer, the Opera two years ago.
About the Author
MARK MULLINS became a Christian at the age of 19 in his first year at Durham University. After graduating Mark joined the army where he spent seven years, leaving in 1993 to study for the bar. Mark has been a barrister since 1995, specialising in crime and immigration. Until 1994 Mark attended a large charismatic anglican church in central London but left as a result of the Toronto blessing to attend a small traditional pentecostal assembly in north London where he is now an elder. Mark is on the council of Christian Alliance Ministries which is an umbrella organisation for pentecostals/charismatics who seek to follow simple Bible-based Christianity.
1 A madrassa is an Islamic religious school
2 The Egyptian Dar al-Ulum was founded in 1871 as an educational institution designed to produce students with both an Islamic and modern education on the secondary level.