Church v the Judiciary?

The Daily Telegraph today carries as its lead story the claim by the Bishop of Winchester, on Radio 4, that the courts discriminate against Christians and that there is a lack of religious literacy among judges.  The Human Rights Act, he claims, privleges the rights of minorities over the faith of Christians. 

This strikes me as complete and utter nonsense.  I have not seen any evidence that judges have suddenly become ignorant of religion or indeed evidence that they were previously inclined to privilege scripture over the clear intent of Acts of Parliament.  Judges apply the law.  The Human Rights Act provides greater scope for interpretation than is usually provided by other statute law, but it is nonetheless the law as passed by Parliament.  The Bishop repeats the claim that certain minorities are being protected at the expense of Christians who wish to abide by the scriptures.   One might think Christians would wish to ensure that minorities are not discriminated against and that everyone is treated as equal before the law.  I realise that the Bishop thinks that Christians – or rather certain Christians – now fall in the category of such a minority, but what evidence is there for that?  The only examples given are where people, claiming Christian beliefs, discriminate against others, not in a private but in a public capacity.  On the logic of the Bishop’s argument, people of religion, including religious extremists, should be permitted to discriminate publicly against minorities.   Not, in my view, a very Christian approach.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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11 Responses to Church v the Judiciary?

  1. Jonathan says:

    I read the article today and thought it was nonsense too. Once again they dig up the example of gay men staying in a B&B run by Christians. If you turn the situation around and imagine a hotel owner turning guests away because they were Catholic (or whatever) you can imagine the victim – quite rightly – would go looking for some sort of protection or redress through the law.

    You sum up what is wrong with the article, and make the points I would want to, more succinctly than I could have done anyway.

    Just look at how the Telegraph looks to whip up public outrage further by reference to the “European Human Rights Act”. Since when did Europe pass Acts of Parliament?

  2. Carl.H says:

    My Lord, I believe the Law in general not to be equal and that more rights ARE given to minorities. In the poorer section of society we do see evidence of such however there “maybe” some stirring of the pot intentionally.

    This was the content of an email sent to me recently:

    Police Instructions – Bedfordshire Police — THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE


    It´s no joke either


    UK’s Bedfordshire Police’s rules regarding terrorists and dangerous criminals

    If they’re non-Muslim

    • Consider the most opportune time of day to be able to arrest suspects with minimum resistance
    • Apply all necessary force to enter the premises and arrest suspects accordingly.

    If they’re Muslim:

    • Community leaders must be consulted before raids into Muslim houses.
    • Officers must not search occupied bedrooms and bathrooms before dawn.
    • Use of police dogs will be considered serious desecration of the premises.
    • Cameras and camcorders should not be used in case of capturing women in inappropriate dress.
    • If people are praying at home officers should stand aside and not disrupt the prayer.
    They should be allowed the opportunity to finish.
    • Officers should take their shoes off before raiding a Muslim house.
    • The reasons for pre-dawn raids on Muslim houses needs to be clear and transparent.
    • Officers must not touch holy books or religious artefacts without permission.
    • Muslim prisoners should be allowed to take additional clothing to the station.

    With this continuing appeasement, no wonder it’s now predicted that
    Britain will become an Islamic state by 2070.
    (Time to think about your children.)


    This is not a one off email, I get these types of mail regularly. The senders of the mails have strong links to law enforcement which maybe a little worrying.

    • Carl.H says:

      Just to clarify Bedfordshire Police`s position.

      Click to access Response%20Letter%202010-00207.pdf

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H: This is not the point I am making. My point is that the law as passed by Parliament should be applied and that particular individuals should not be permitted to allow their prejudices to give them exemption from such law in their public behaviour. If someone is employed as a relationship counsellor, then – regardless of their religion (Muslim, Christian etc) or non-religion – they should not be permitted to pick and choose who should be in receipt of their services.

      • Carl.H says:

        My Lord, it will appear to the public in some cases the Law passed by Parliament is prejudicial against Christians.

        IF these are to be believed then Local Authorities are picking who is or isn`t in receipt of their services.

        We have Laws in this Country that are exemptions and therefore create prejudicial behaviour and ill feeling. Most of these concern religions and some of those religions are full of prejudices.

        My Lord one cannot state the people cannot pick and choose whilst the Government may appear to do the opposite.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H: Your first link appears irrelevant to the point I am making and indeed appears to have little bearing on the assertion that the law is being used to discriminate against Christians qua Christians.

  3. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,

    As always I wll be restrained by my own lights and honest in that my own lights are mostly foreign. I respect and have sudied the British Constitution and Common Law and with Montesquieu see these elements as combining into something exemplary in a number of ways. However, my own ideas of freedom, autnomy and rights flow more from Greece, medieval France and the USA. I think it is a tribute to the British systen that a least for a moment the Parliament includes bishops (and the chief Rabbi by something approaching autnomous right. The greatest defense against the noble prelate’s remonstrances is his place alotted to make them. That integrated approach alone wins a great deal of respect from outsiders (few but rather serious) who otherwise would have little respect for the British system of guarantees. Otherwise merely to say that conscience is not relevant where laws are applied would place the UK alongside Hitler’s Third Reich, Stalin’s Soviet Union or any other of a number of regimes not respected in this regard. Frankly, while recent French governments have not been true tyranies the “Rights of Man” gets almost no respect from certain people like me because it has lacked clear procedural incarnation. There are also some regimes with very little liberty or sense of rights which are less rotten than the idiologically frenzied type which denounce liberty of conscience. A great deal of how each regime makes decisions is based on how other countries are likely to react. Muslims often choose violence to enforce religious deference and so get more formalized respect in many places than more squeamish Christian polities. There are those who do not react that way but the secular media usually condemns these openly anti-muslim p0licies with few voices defending the restance .

    I think the Excellent Prelate is porbably right that the judiciary often have no idea of what role Christian views of marriage play in solidifying British society and what hidden costs may exist in threatening them. Probably they have never read an article on the “Doctrine of the Two Swords” which although it is not the law anywhere and has not been in England since Henry VIII did form the basis of much of our ideas of human conscience and is not studied as a matter of using silence as deliberate misinformation. Probably, they do not trouble themselves to see whether a series of regulations can be applied a variety of different institutions that might aproximate justice for all rather than an equality of unequal things. In the USA some Catholic Diocese have shut down centuries old social programs because new state laws would require them to allow homosexual couples to adopt from these orphanges or would require their clinics to provide transport to abortion clinics. Now in a free marketplace of ideas and behaviors one could think of hundreds of ways to have institutions which do and which do not provide any number of services. In a traditional society one can imagine the Catholic position being the default position and still having variances provided after special review by the liberal omsbudman seeking to assure autonomy for aborting women and single sex couple seeking full parental status. The regimes in question are clearly transformative regimes using force to create a new synthesis. To say that such matters are prescribed by law cannot be the full answer in any constitutional regime.

    There are famous records in Rome of letters between jurists on how executing Christians for ahteism should be done not as the law on its face dictated but:
    1. Only if they were denounced.
    2. If the accusers then assisted as complaining witnesses.
    3. If the accused then refused to sacrifice to the Emperor. This was to be accomplished by impeaching any witness testifying to earlier refusal to sacrifice to the living god who was at the heart of governance in the Empire.
    4. If the accused did hire a qulaity proxy to sacrifice to the Emperor.
    Now all the jusrists in this correspondence had killed many men, women and children for Christian-inspired-atheism. They rolled up their sleeves and fed babies to lions when it seemed necessary. However, they were aware that the judicial robe is to mask a certain humane sanity when laws are made which may not be entirely responsible. That is a basic principle not only of Western Civilization but of others as well.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Frank W. Summers III: Your comments rather prove my point. What is your evidence for the various claims you make about judges? How do you know whether they are or are not aware of the effect of marriage in solidyfying society? How do you know whether senior judges are not pillars of their local churches? How do you know whether this is a change from the position that previously existed? You appear to be repeating the same spurious claims advanced by the Bishop of Winchester.

      • franksummers3ba says:

        Lord Norton,
        I did take some classes with a professor who studied laws at Oxford and was in the Inns of Court. My father did study in the postgraduate laws program at the University of London which occasioned my only stay in the United Kingdom when I was a wee lad. Things are not learned by accident and I do have some idea of what is prioritized by the legal profession these days. I earned a Master of Arts in History at Louisiana State University and those who know something about the system can conjecture as to what I do and do not know well in that field. They may be wrong in one specific case but they are bound to have some level of accuracy in the composite group of all alumni of the program and I was speaking in the composite.
        Your next inquiry is not relevant to my point:
        “How do you know whether senior judges are not pillars of their local churches?”

        The pillars of local churches are laymen as to theological training and clerical ordination and are not accountable to really understand these things at the level in which it is necessary to understand them.
        “How do you know whether this is a change from the position that previously existed?” Well it was very specifically Christian sweat and ink which built the majority of what is fundamental at Oxbridge, the Doomsdsay recordings, the Bayeaux tapestry, Venerable Bede’s vital biographies, Butlers lives of English Saints, the biblical treatises of St. Augustine of Canterbury’s reforms and organizations, Westminster Abbey, John Wesley’s method and missions, Florence Nightingale’s humanitarianism and it was Christianity that Captain Cook thought would be the best thing he brought to the really new places he visited. In that context there were to be judicial experts who would also have placed a similar value on the Christian heritage and its complexity. This was not always successful. I do know that some British judges are learned Christians from shools where a certain amount of sound CE education was bound to have splashed over them and been absorbed. I am equally sure that they have not had the training as a body to really deal with the issues that are inescapable in this context.
        As far the Bishop I am familiar with his reputation and as far the article I am sadly ignorant. However, I would say that it is unlikely he would make these assertions without some basis in fact. These are difficult matters. There is nothing easy about them. That is why I believe the general evidence as to:
        “How do you know whether they are or are not aware of the effect of marriage in solidifying society?” is relatively apparent if you add the adjective Chrstian which I threw in there. Societies change and none of the past ones were perfect but I side with bishop in his implication that perhaps fools are rushing in where angels fear to tread. By raising his banner he is determining whether the judges stand in the position of Roman jurists who must seek subterfuge to ease their obligation to persecute Christians or whether they are representing a State, Society and Polity which is still at least “more Christian than not”. I am very sick at heart right now that Iraqi Christians have not been able to decorate their homes or attend public services this year. I think the West is all in all becoming ridiculous and so it is from that place that I listen to the excellent prelate.

      • Lord Norton says:

        frankwsummers3ba: You haven’t quite addressed the questions I posed. Judges may not now be theologically trained but then again they have not been in recent decades either. What they are trained in is the law and that is what they apply. You say that the Bishop would not make his assertion without some basis in fact. There is no evidence at all that that his claims has any basis in fact, any more than your has about the knowledge of judges in respect of the effect of marriage. There are plenty of people in public life who make assertions on the basis of no facts at all.

        I am rather encouraged by the letters published in The Daily Telegraph this morning in response to the Bishop’s comments.

  4. Gar says:

    “the courts discriminate against Christians and that there is a lack of religious literacy among judges.”

    I have often observed that mere mortals who become involved with the Church of England on a daily, or even weekly, basis frequently become entangled with the criminal law.

    It is so uncommon for young people to take any interest in the CofE at all, except at Xmas, that enthusiastic communicants develop a false conscience in such a way they soon end up even behind bars.

    That may be what the Archbishop is refering to, but in a church which is dying worse than the Methodist one, is it any surprise? On a recent visit to a Methodist coffee morning, I was confronted by about 60 temperate drinkers in their 80s and not one less the 70.

    I have known two such communicants and both got disproportionate sentences in the lock up. They were both committed and in my view good Christians. They both, more or less, volunteered for punishment which they really did not deserve.

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