To The Victim, The Spoils

by Mary Jackson (November 2008) 

 

“A victory for religious liberty” proclaimed Lillian Ladele. No, this isn’t a Muslim lifeguard winning the right to swim in full burqua, or a Muslim barman getting out of serving beer. This time it’s a Christian whose “landmark” claim of religious discrimination has been upheld.  From The Telegraph:

Lillian Ladele, 47, can expect a large payout from Islington Council after she was bullied and threatened with the sack for asking to avoid civil partnerships because of her deeply-held religious beliefs.

When she said she could not reconcile her faith with the union of gay men and women, she was treated like a "pariah" and the council showed no respect for her rights as a Christian, the tribunal found.

 

Not before time, you may be thinking. Tribunals have been pandering to Muslims and other minorities for long enough. It’s only fair Christians should get a look in. “A victory for Britain’s quiet majority,” said The Daily Mail, “And for […] common sense in our courtrooms.”

 

But is it “common sense”? More to the point, is it any kind of victory for Britain’s “quiet majority”? Let’s look at the facts.

Since 2005, same-sex couples have been allowed by UK law to enter into civil partnerships. This is not the same as gay marriage, which in the EU is legal only in the Netherlands and Belgium. While the legal rights and obligations of marriage and civil partnerships are nearly identical, there are two important differences.

First, just as marriage is only available to mixed couples, civil partnerships are only available to same-sex couples. The two are separate categories, although they convey equal legal rights. Gay marriage, as I understand it, means that there is only one category.  Thus, a registrar is not being asked to “marry” a gay couple, but to conduct a different kind of ceremony.

More importantly in this context, a civil partnership may only be a civil ceremony. Marriage may be either a religious ceremony or a civil ceremony. A civil partnership is a legal arrangement only - a set of contractual obligations. A registrar is not required to bless the union, or even to approve of it, but merely to perform the duties of his office.

The same might be said of conventional civil wedding ceremonies. A registry office is not a house of God; indeed it is explicitly Godless, since religious language is outlawed. Couples who have been living “in sin” may marry there, as may the oft-divorced. What Islington Council hath joined together, man may easily put asunder.

Ms Ladele stated that she holds “the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others” and that civil partnerships are “contrary to God’s law”. Perhaps they are, but so too is the re-marriage of divorcees. Why not be consistent, and separate, in both cases, the sacred from the secular? Render unto Islington what is Islington’s, and to God what is God’s.

Consistency is not always admirable in matters of conscience, certainly not if it means that we fail to distinguish a lesser wrong from a greater. Ms Ladele may well have felt that marrying divorcees was a compromise she could make, but “marrying” gays was not. She is fully entitled to her view, and to take a principled stance on it. But how principled was her stance?

Before bringing her tribunal case, Ms Ladele demanded that others conduct civil partnership ceremonies in her place. She was, it seems, happy for her colleagues to “sin” more so she could “sin” less, and for them to make sacrifices – by rearranging their working patterns – to accommodate her religious sensibilities. When they grew tired of this, she sued – at taxpayers’ expense – and won a “large payout”. There’s profit in principles.

What Ms Ladele did was wrong. When the requirements of a job change such that they conflict with one’s conscience, the right thing to do is resign. This is what Ms Ladele should have done. She should have explained her reasons without trumpeting her virtue.

 

Resigning is not an easy thing to do. It may be hard to get another job. Fewer jobs are open to a man with a conscience. For a Christian, this is the cross he has to bear, but he has no right to force another man to bear it.

 

Islam is different. In the case of the hijab and the hairdresser, the Muslim demanded that the non-Muslim bear the cost of her piety. In my Pajamas Media piece on that case, I wrote:

 

Islam is doing what Islam has always done: taking territory by any means possible. For Muslims in the West, tears are more effective than guns.

 

Christianity is better than this. A Christian who uses victimhood as a weapon is letting the side down. Jesus said his yoke is easy, but he didn’t say it came with a compensation payout.

 

For believers and non-believers alike, it is not in the public interest that victimhood should be lucrative. Islington Council has appealed. I hope that it wins, and that this dangerous precedent is overturned.

This article first appeared in Pajamas Media in July 2008

 

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Mary Jackson contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.  

 


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