Help! Help! I’m being repressed!

Bishop of WinchesterAnybody that recognises the title of this article will instantly realise that it’s about to illustrate something ridiculous. Fittingly, it comes from Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail”; the Holy Grail, in this case, being the ‘right’ sought by some Christians to discriminate against LGBT people. It’s a cry all too familiar in the US, and recently in the UK alike, where those facing laws preventing the enactment of bigotry in the name of religion scream out “Help! Help! I’m being repressed!”, which is no less ridiculous from these religious figures, public servants and so-called ‘pro-family’ groups than it was when it came from Michael Palin’s Dennis, the infuriatingly awkward peasant in The Holy Grail.

As reported by The Telegraph, a UK based tabloid newspaper with a conservative bias, the Bishop of Winchester (the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt) chose the day after Christmas to deliver his gift of wisdom to the nation on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World This Weekend’. Namely, that he notes that “The Human Rights Act is protecting the rights of minority groups while encouraging judges and politicians to discriminate against Christians”. Could he be complaining of a “war against Christmas”? Perhaps, but no. Instead, he warns us that “the death of ‘religious literacy’ among those who made and administered the law had created an imbalance in the way in which those with faith were treated compared to sexual minorities.” By sexual minorities, of course, he means gay people. Once again, a religious figure is effectively complaining that the refusal to allow Christians to discriminate against gay people is, in fact, discrimination against Christians.

There is a temptation here to pick apart his argument statement by statement – while it may sound reasoned on the face of it, it’s absolutely jam packed full of straw men. Instead though, lets go for the jugular – those things that are pretty much universal in such claims, and that which forms the basis of his argument.

Firstly, there are LGBT Christians too – and so by definition, “sexual minorities” and “Christians” are not separate, disparate groups. Support of the human rights of “sexual minorities” does not and cannot mean discrimination against Christians.

Secondly, there is an argument that people of strong faith should be able to realise their faith and live it rather than simply pay lip service to it. This is actually a very strong argument, with one flaw; where does it say in christian scripture that Christians must interfere in other people’s lives, be dismissive of gay people or refuse to provide them with services, push their beliefs onto other people, refuse to “love thy neighbor” because that neighbor happens to be gay or insist that gay people don’t make good parents? Sure, a person of conscience must of course act by their conscience – but what informs it? Certain Christians believe that God insists that man should not lie with man, but since when are genuine Christians the enforcers of Gods law rather than its adherents? A person who believes that gay sex is wrong according to their faith can live and realise that faith by not having gay sex. It’s that simple. Christian scripture actually warns against pronouncing judgement on others!

Finally, of course, there’s the issue of Human Rights itself. These are rights that each human being has by virtue of being human. Inalienable rights stemming from one’s existence as a human being. It seems to be that those that wish to create a right for the religious to discriminate against LGBT people (the right never existed in the first place – more of a wrong that was allowed to happen) either don’t understand the concept of Human Rights, or believe that they should be defined in accordance with their personal religious beliefs – it’s a little bit crazy when you really think about it.

No Reverend, religious literacy doesn’t have a place in lawmaking, except in laws directly relating to religion. Laws that public/secular services must be provided on a non-discriminatory basis do not qualify as laws directly relating to religion. They may, however, go some way to righting the wrongs of those few religious people who practice bigotry, mean spiritedness and hate in the name of their religion.