Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Why the "Conscience" Opt Out is mistaken

"Non-whites who reside in America should be expected to conduct themselves according to Christian principles and must recognize that race mixing is definitely wrong and out of the question. It will be a privilege to live under the authority of a compassionate White Christian government." (Knights of the KKK)

Recently Edgar Ray Killen, a former Ku Klux Klan leader who was convicted for the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” killings of three civil rights workers, has died in prison at the age of 92. He saw interracial marriage as a genocidal attack on the white race, and justified his segregational position on the basis of his Baptist faith (he was actually a part-time preacher).

Likewise, the South African regime drew on Dutch Calvinish to justify apartheid and all the discrimination that involved. As one blog notes:

“Deeply Calvinistic, these people were also deeply entrenched in an Old Testament biased Dominionism. Viewing themselves as Israelites in a hostile land, chosen by God, and defining the Kingdom in terms of cultural purification and advancement, over time they moved from not merely seeking to dominate the 'lesser' races but found it needful to limit contact altogether.”

To my mind, to allow any religious person to opt out and discriminate against another on grounds of sex seems as bad as discrimination on the grounds of race.

No one is saying that those who want a “conscience” clause will resort to violence, but the notion that discrimination can come from “Christian principles” is nothing new.

It is right that religious organisations should have freedom to opt out as an organisation, but not right that discrimination should extend beyond the confines of that religious organisation to civil marriage.

Here are a few comments worth reading:

Rev Graeme Halls, Superintendent Minister of the Jersey Methodist Church

“What can happen is that there are those who because of ‘their conscience’ find that engagement with people in same sex marriage or even relationships difficult. The ‘cake baker and b@b hotelier’ are given as examples.”

“We cannot live in a world that allows people to discriminate against others. This turns these people into victims, which is entirely wrong, we cannot condone this sort of behaviour. We cannot discriminate on the basis of colour, or gender, or race or culture. It is also the case that well funded fundamentalist groups are very happy to back such people as their examples. It is not the role of a cake baker to decide who they will and will not bake a cake for. It reminds me of the 1950’s where those who let out rooms in UK put notices in their windows saying ‘no blacks’. We cannot allow this to happen in this case.”

“This cannot be allowed to skew the debate about a law that seeks to treat all equally, and for society to respect those who live within the law.”

V. Tanner Davy, Honorary C.E.O, Liberate Jersey

We only have to look back a lifetime, just one lifetime, to see elderly and disabled people behind bars in asylums, gay people behind bars in prison, women imprisoned in marriages with slim means to divorce, black and Asian people barred from pubs and clubs, to know what happens to minorities without the support of governments. Britain in the 1950s and 1960s was no idyll for those from a minority. Jersey is not perfect now and there is still work to do but I know what era I prefer to live in. Minorities need robust anti-discrimination law that is not watered down by clauses that allow select groups to opt-out of their obligation not to discriminate in the workplace.

Senator Philip Ozouf:

“The Jersey Law as proposed does not interfere with the established arrangements for religions or churches. Religious organisations will not be required or compelled to marry same-sex couples. As around the world, if the great religions and faiths of the world do not want marriage Equality within their rules they are not compelled to have it. If some, such as Quakers or Methodists and other governing bodies wished to allow it, they could. And rightly so. They are opt-in arrangements.”

“Nowhere in the world, however, has an opt-out for the arrangements for Civil Marriages.”

“The concept of this law is to provide fairness and equity within our society for anyone wishing to get married. It would be somewhat ironic at best if a clause were included to exclude some elements of equity, and allow situations where people can still discriminate against same sex couples.”

“In essence, legislating discrimination of a group into an equality law!”

“If the States of Jersey passes a law to permit something or to prevent something else i.e. the discrimination of men, women, people of colour, age or whatever, then there cannot be subordinate rights of somebody else to decline to apply that law on the basis of religious, political or philosophical beliefs.”

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