The case of the Christian would-be foster parents

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The case of the Christian couple who lost their court case (brought by Christian Legal Centre) over their right to discriminate against homosexuals is interesting.

The couple want to foster children, but a condition of being a foster parent is that one not discriminate against homosexuals by e.g. telling children that a gay lifestyle is morally wrong. That's exactly what these prospective parents wanted to do.

The reaction of the couple's lawyer is that the verdict represents "intolerance of religious belief".

I think that if people believe homosexuality is morally wrong, and believe children should be taught that, then it is their right to lobby parliament, etc to get the law changed (and the rules re foster parents).

But the view, not that the law or the rules re fostering themselves be changed, but that certain individuals should be exempt on religious grounds, strikes me as unjustified.

This couple were denied the right to foster not on the grounds that they are Christians but on the grounds that they hold bigoted views likely to harm children in their care. Plenty of Christians aren't bigoted in this way. So there's no objection to them fostering. It's not the Christianity that's the obstacle. It's the bigotry (which happens to be religiously motivated)

That it's okay to bar non-religiously motivated bigots from fostering, but religiously motivated bigots should be exempt from such a rule, seems to me perverse. Unless it can be shown that there's something special about the religious that means that the rules that apply to everyone else needn't apply to them.

Perhaps that is what this couple think? But then I wonder what this same couple, who also happen to be black, would say about members of a hypothetical religious group that wanted to teach children that black people are morally inferior, or can justifiably be used as slaves, similarly insisting that they are discriminating on religious grounds? Should the fact that these people's racial bigotry is religiously motivated mean that they, too, should be exempt from the rules concerning discrimination that apply to everyone else?

Of course not. And I doubt this couple would say otherwise. Which rather undermines their case for exemption from anti-bigotry rules or laws on specifically religious grounds.

I don't doubt some will say, "But what a shame that children in need of a home should have to go without these loving and caring parents". I don't doubt that this couple are (otherwise) loving and caring. But of course this is irrelevant so far as specifically exempting Christians is concerned. It would just be a case for exempting all loving and caring parents who hold homophobic views. Perhaps such a case can be made. But it's got nothing to do with making exemptions on the basis of religion.


Of course plenty of Christians would agree with the above. But many don't, and perhaps the most common complaint is that in effect we are saying the rights of homosexuals trump those of the religious. Indeed: "The courts are effectively ruling that Christians are not protected by indirect discrimination laws." (Christian Today website).

This is confused. Consider a political party that, as a consequence of their fascist ideology, publicly discriminated against black people. Members would be barred from fostering too. But now what if they said, "But what of the right to hold and promote political views? That's a basic democratic right. Don't we have such a right? And why should that right be trumped by the rights of black people? Why, when such rights come into conflict, should our right be one that gives way? The rights of members of political organizations such as our own are clearly not being protected by indirect discrimination laws. We demand our rights!"

Obviously, the right to hold and promote political views is, and should be, upheld. But that right doesn't extend to racist political views. At that point, certain laws and rules (including re fostering) kick in. Such political racists are not, in any sense, being unfairly discriminated against. Nor are their political rights being trampled. It is, frankly, ridiculous to claim otherwise. Ditto the suggestion that the rights of the religious are being trampled by this judicial decision.