Bishops criticise ‘secular’ judgment

05 May 2010

by a staff reporter

A JUDGMENT by an Appeal Court judge was criticised by a bishop this week as “incomprehensible”.

The judge, Lord Justice Laws, re­fused Gary McFarlane’s appeal against his dismissal for declining to give sexual counselling to same-sex couples (see legal report). In his judgment, Lord Laws dismisses a witness statement by Lord Carey, in which the former Archbishop of Canterbury had written of “a clear animus to Christian beliefs” among the judiciary.

Lord Laws states: “The promulga­tion of law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot . . . be justified. It is irrational, as preferring the sub­jective over the objective. But it is also divisive, capricious, and arbitrary.”

Lord Carey had asked for a special court to hear religious cases. Lord Laws described the idea as “deeply inimical to the public interest”.

Lord Carey said after the judgment that it was “deeply worrying. . . The judgment heralds a secular state rather than a neutral one. And while with one hand the ruling seeks to protect the rights of religious believers to hold and express their faith, with the other it takes away those same rights.”

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, a former Bishop of Rochester, said that the judgment “seems infected with the post­modern contagion of individualism”. He spoke also about Lord Laws’s “enthusiasm for a secular Britain”.

The Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, said in an interview with Christianity Today: “It seems to me that Lord Laws, for reasons of his own and his own agenda, made a ruling that is rationally incompre­hensible and actually very serious for the future of the Christian faith.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, described the judgment as “an extraordinary rebuke to those who would try to introduce a particular religious view into the decisions of courts”.

Lord Laws is an Anglican who at­tends the Temple Church in the Inns of Court. He was educated at Durham Cathedral Choir School, reviews for the journal Theology, and is married to Professor Sophie Laws, a theologian.

In his judgment, he acknowledges that “the Judaeo-Christian tradition, stretching over many centuries, has no doubt exerted a profound in­fluence upon the judgment of law­makers as to the objective merits of this or that social policy.” He con­tinues, however: “But the confer­ment of any legal protection or preference upon a particular sub­stantive moral position on the ground only that it is espoused by the adherents of a particular faith, however long its tradition, however rich its culture, is deeply un­principled.”

To confer any legal favour on a particular religion would, says Lord Laws, move the constitution “on the way to a theocracy, which is of neces­sity autocratic. The law of a theo­cracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dic­tated law; but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.

“So it is that the law must firmly safeguard the right to hold and ex­press religious belief; equally firmly, it must eschew any protection of such a belief’s content in the name only of its religious credentials.”

Preacher arrested. Dale McAlpine, a Free Church street preacher, was charged with a public-order offence after speaking against homosexuality in Workington, Cheshire, last month.

After being challenged by a police support officer, Mr McAlpine was taken to a police station and charged with using abusive or insulting words or behaviour contrary to the Public Order Act 1986.

Town-hall challenge.
The National Secular Society (NSS) has launched a legal move against Bideford Town Council for beginning its meetings with prayers. The action is believed to be a test case. The Society says on its website: “We have been working on this campaign for some months and, after complaints from council­lors, top lawyers working on behalf of the NSS have sent a letter to one council advising them that prayers during council meetings are in conflict with human-rights pro­visions.”


Should the law in the UK favour Christianity? Vote here


Should the law in the UK favour Christianity? Vote here


Coronavirus (Covid-19) update

The latest: Daily news updates

Get the free Church Times email bulletin


> Lift Up Your Hearts: 3 April (PDF download)

> All our recommended resources for prayer, worship, live streaming and more


Unable to get to the newsagent or pass on your copy of the Church Times as usual?

Get the paper delivered for the next few weeks

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)