A Clash of Interest – religious beliefs against equalities

When there is a legal conflict between two people or groups, how does the law decide which way to lean? In a case yesterday, a judge found in favour of a gay couple, Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy, who had been prevented from staying in a hotel by Mr & Mrs Bull, the owners, who cited their Christian beliefs as the reason/excuse for of their discriminatory practice.

During a phone-in on the radio yesterday evening, there was equal support for both sides in the dispute and a great deal of misunderstanding. However the legislation is clear, once the Bulls set up as a business they are bound by it regarding their service delivery. They are obliged to provide a fair and equal service for all, not just their chosen few (or many). They have not been told how to express their beliefs in their own home but as service providers, they become exposed to all anti-discrimination legislation.

Messrs Hall & Preddy have never said that the Bulls do not have the right to their views, nor have the Equality & Human Right Commission who supported them in court. No-one has said they are not entitled to their Christian beliefs, though some may feel inclined to challenge them on this -they have not been the victims of any discrimination – their rights have not been infringed. They, as many other Christians, believe homosexuality is wrong and so is sex outside marriage. But I wonder how many unmarried heterosexual couples would be asked by the Bulls to present their marriage certificates before being allowed to take a double room in their hotel?

I believe that this case asks of us an important question that we commonly ask about other countries and cultures. What happens when religion and establishment (the state) collide? We live in a Christian country and our monarch is head of the church. Whilst the Queen’s own government creates its laws to reflect a modern society, it cannot and should not take into account Christian, or any other religion’s, doctrines or morality. So we get this confused situation within our secular, though Christian, country.

There is not a hierarchy of rights and we cannot legislate for one person’s right over another. But perhaps, with this case in mind, we can see the importance of our religious leaders following the state and beginning to modernise their beliefs. I understand how much furore this simple statement might give rise to. After all, this week the Catholic Church has just ordained three ex Church of England bishops who left the church in protest against the ordination of women as bishops. What does this say about equality in the church?

Whatever the religion or non-religion we believe in, surely it is incumbent upon us all to learn to live together and not judge other people. We are all different, and do we not want to be included, valued and unjudged despite our differences. One of the essential messages of my religion is about learning to be more tolerant and accepting of other people, their individuality, their specialness and their difference. If we all strived to achieve this end, our country and world would be a better place to live in.

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About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
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10 Responses to A Clash of Interest – religious beliefs against equalities

  1. Thank you Michael for this.

    In my humble view, the solution is actually very simple. Just like the miraculous transformation in Perceived Reality of the Emperor’s New Clothes, when the little boy states what nobody else seems to say, the problem disappears by simply pointing out that true Christianity equates to Zero Judgement, both because I never have complete information, and because if part of my brain is distracted in judging, I cannot remain sensitive to the signals Life/God/Nature may be sending me*.

    What is my basis for saying this? Think Asterix and his Magic Potion.

    Most people live in a self-centred reality which periodically clashes with the Real World, leading to fear, frustration, anger etc.

    To let go of this self-centred view and move to a clearer understanding of the Real World requires tremendous courage and a genuine Leap of Faith – no different to how Special Forces trainees need to complete a death-defying leap to “un-Condition” their previous conditioning.

    For time eternal, this is a very slow and personal development process that cannot be replaced by rules and doctrine. It involves a certain amount of pain and endurance testing – as per the Passion in the New Testament. And above all, it is subtly driven by Life, not Man, regardless of rank or title.

    During the Catholic child abuse scandal, a wonderfully sincere Parish Priest asked me to help accelerate the positive reforms within his organization.

    Since then, by gradually replicating online the rhetorical techniques that were used 2,000 years to outmanoeuvre the Pharisees, my two simple suggestions for my client’s line manager, the Bishop of Westminster, concluded that:

    1) It would be more beneficial to portray parables accurately, namely as a coaching trap designed to catch out 19/20 who would “Jump to Judgement” and identify the most open minded 1/20 who could then coach the next most open minded person etc., and, as Christ was Socratic (i.e. in the moment), rather than Platonic (rules driven like the Pharisees), these should be kept dynamic rather than being set in stone.

    2) Catholic group coaching techniques and mind games have worked wonders over the centuries with individuals, families, organisations and society at large (even football teams!). If the market leader for religious realities ran itself as a coaching business, everyone would be better off – just think of what a Worldwide perceived miracle the example of “changing oneself first” would trigger!

    Arnie said “I’ll be back”

    Columbus said “I’ll sail West to China and I’ll be back”

    One of my top 10 role models may have said “Lads, my intuition tells me that I take the assignment to walk up that hill, (despite the perceived odds) I’ll be back. Let me show you the power of my “1-99% accurate Direct Line” which my mentors taught me”

    In the market for Faith, do you put your money on the Swimming Instructor who can quote the manual inside out, or on the one who has actually been in the deep end?

    You asked for a debate – let a healthy debate emerge and the Real World shine through! : 0 )

    * such as for example maybe the intuition that somehow, and against precedent, got me to check this linked-in notice?

  2. Prashanth says:

    Many thanks.

    As a diversity professional, I fully welcome the ruling. As a humanitarian, I respect people’s independent choices and would never support any form of discrimination. However, personally as a Christian, though there are mixed voices within the Church on this, I stand with the Biblical doctrine that marriage is designed between a man and woman and beleive that God loves homosexuals, but not the practice of homosexuality.

    It’s good to know what you are doing at Equality Edge by the way.

    Thanks, Prashanth

  3. Karen says:

    To me, it’s simple…
    1/From a legal point of view, if you set up in business, you have to follow the rules of the land…..if those rules conflict with your own religious beliefs, then you are in the wrong business and need to set up a different one.
    2/From a moral standpoint, I believe a truly religious person, uses their beliefs as an aid to understanding other people and not judging them.
    So, I’m glad that justice supported the gay couple in their claim.

  4. Nadine Crawford-Piper says:

    I would like to add my comments to this blog this is something close to my heart as a Christian . I have read the blog post which I think is well written and reasoned. It was interesting to read in the blog that the right to believe was not an issue since the Bull’s are “entitled to their Christian beliefs”. I am not sure how far this argument of the right to believe could have gone, since currently we are still free in Britain to choose our religion. But it does appear that religious belief is expected to be a personal matter and where one expresses such a belief and others disagree such a “right” to belief is then disregarded (particularly for Christians as other recent issues confirm) . I do struggle with this quest for Equality we are now bent on in the UK, as by the laws of life and nature there cannot be absolute equality for all parties in every given situation. For e.g. as a parent, when I am giving my toddler the right to his freedom to roam and explore the front room in my house, I am exercising my right as the parent to protect my child as I know the dangers ahead and have put plans in place to mitigate this danger. So then, am I not giving my toddler his full rights? Are my rights greater than his? You can see where this argument could go.

    Political ideologies which have tried establish “equality for all” were soon found out to be impossible to work. Why do we think in Britain we can give everyone equal rights at the same time? We can take this argument to all spheres of life, and will soon see that it does not work. It is clear, in our current political climate that it is Christianity that is losing its “rights”. It may be true that Christianity needs to be more consistent in its tenets and practices, – so that a non married couple as sited in the blog, should not be granted permission to book a double room as with the homosexual couple. I wonder how the court would rule if the Bull’s were practicing one of our minority religions exercising their right to believe and extending their belief into their business?

    I think we have come a long way is protecting minorities which must be acknowledged but per my argument above, I think we have passed the finishing line and are heading over the cliff with this.

  5. Alexis P says:

    Let’s not mix various aspects of the issue here.

    One issue in this story is how we react to homosexuality (which I won’t discuss here), the other is whether the hotel owners should be allowed or not to decide who stays in their hotel.

    1- From a simply legal point of view, as it has been said above, the law of the land applies and if the Bulls are not prepared to apply the local rules and regulations, they should not be in that business. But that is only part of the issue.

    2- As a libertarian, I believe freedom of association is fundamental. It means that people should be able to interact with whoever they freely chose. Therefore, if some people chose not to do business with some individuals, regardless of their motivations, they should be allowed to do so.
    The alternative is totally unfair: it implies that the opinion of some (Hall and Preddy) is more important, or has more value, than the opinion of the Bulls. Why? Because it is more in fashion? There are no moral grounds that justify that someone should be forced to do business with someone he does not want to. And that has absolutely nothing to do with one’s motivations, or the validity or fairness of one’s opinions.

    3- This episode illustrates the lunacy of present times, in which some completely mix up the meaning of the word “discriminate”. The basis of human action is choice, and choice is based on discrimination. Discrimination is a basic, fundamental component of human action. We all discriminate al the time, every time we chose between 2 options or more. Now, some people want to chose for others what is good and bad for them, and want to impose their own choices upon other people. As always, attempting to justify their view on their “rightness”. Far from being a sign of goodness and moral high grounds, it is simply the mental aberration of all the tyrants of the universe, who have brought misery to others by trying to “save” them.

    Finally, by allowing a system to coerce some to do business against their will, and to prevent others to voluntarily interact despite their free choice to do so (ex: I can’t hire you because you have no permit to work here), we are slowly but surely moving towards tyranny. Authorities never stop, once they have been given the opportunity to impose their will. In the long term it brings only very bad things…

    4- @Andrea: not to judge is not an option. As we come into contact with something, we automatically create a judgment. Good or bad, it is a fact. Now what should matter to human “authorities” is whether this thought translate into actions or not.
    Policing one’s thoughts is tyranny (and will always fail); artificially trying to negate judgment brings absolute relativism, which then brings chaos.

    • Thank you Alexis. I’ve been taught, by the teachers that I’ve picked out as role models, that “not to Judge” is an option, the alternative being “explore with Curiosity”. This does not come naturally (unless we are a baby), and requires considerable conscious effort to “intercept & question” at first, until new mental habits are formed. All I can say is “let’s review in a few years time where this approach will lead me”. Wishing you an amazing week : 0 ) A

  6. equalityedge says:

    Thanks to everyone for making this a lively debate. There has been so much interest off the blog from people who don’t want to be published. Quite a number of cranks too.
    If you find my writings of interest, why not circulate the link to other people in your network. Or get them to contact me to be added to the distribution list. The more the people the better, I believe.
    Regards and happy reading.

  7. Alexis P says:

    Thank you for your reply. As I first said, there are various aspects to this debate. The one I would like to go back to, is whether the law was right to penalise the Bulls for their behaviour.

    My point is that, although it of course sounds good, nice, right to punish a behaviour that many would consider unfair, mean, discriminatory, etc, it is actually wrong to do so. There are two distincts elements here. One is the opinion of the Bulls on homosexuality. The other is their actual behaviour. Although the latter is obviously based on the former, it is actually a distinct issue. The first element is about ideas, the second one is about facts. And it is the second one that the legal system is supposed to addess.
    My point is that freedom of association is fundamental. It implies freedom to do business with whoever you chose. By punishing the Bulls, the current legal system is creating an intolerable situation in which some individuals are superior to others: the freedom of the homosexuals to get together is considered more important than the right of the Bulls to do business to whoever they wish.

    Why should some individuals be forced to do business with some people they don’t want to interact with?

    Please note that this has nothing to do with the reasons that cause this situation in the first place. Whether the Bulls refuse to do business with some individuals because of their sexual orientation, skin colour, nationality, social background, religion, smell, weight, hair style, or what have you is not the point.

  8. Alexis P says:

    @Andrea: “explore with curiosity” you say. Very well. Now what is your position on this essential matter: are the hotel owners free to associate with whoever they wish? Are they free to run their own business as they please? Or should the views of some third parties who do not own nor run the business prevail, and should the Bulls ideas be considered inferiors, and as such could be ignored? On what basis should the hotel owners be forced to interact with some individuals against their own free will?

    • Thank you Alexis for asking me a direct question. I am going to answer in an indirect way. This evening I took my children to kids mass in a small mountain town known for having a stubborn population. The sermon was about San Giuseppe del Pre, who was an exception, bringing a Gospel of manifested Love to a remote region of China. It was not his preaching that did this, but his smiles, warmth, unconditional Love, and willingness to fully respect and integrate to their customs (including changing his name and appearance) that won over the locals. Regarding your question, who am I to Judge? I do not have all the information. Instead I have a pile of admin that is attracting my curiosity next to my computer : 0 ) In lieu of precarious Judgements, to set my long term bearings I rely on a number of role models that I aspire to – and having chosen this simple personal Life Strategy, I am curious how events will unfold : 0 ) However, let me make this point to hopefully make some people think, knowing that a few may be put off by the honesty of what is ultimately just my opinion. Christ, as head and founder of his church, did not go round with bodyguards, and in fact, even some of those who were supposed to defend him ran away when tested because they had not qualified as “truly fearless and willing to lose everything for what is right” Christians (not dissimilar to the courage, serenity and heightened intuition manifested by the Special Forces after their life-risking leap of skill and faith). So as a closing comment, this may be a non debate because there are as many definitions of “Christian” as there people who perceive themselves to be Christians – in a market for labels where nobody can claim that their version is better, but equally where I think almost everyone would agree that it is the degree of Love that we bring to the World around us that probably best measures how we are living up to his enormous footsteps. I hope that I will become better at doing this with time, and I hope that this will inspire my children to want to do so too. Wishing you a wonderful Sunday. Andrea (n.b. to put some of this boldness into context, for two decades I’ve independently studied the logic of what truly changes behaviour in this field, so that now priests in two countries come to me for advice for how to start to try to increase their coaching effectiveness)

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