B&B case: Portillo warns against ‘secular theocracy’

Thu, 27 Jan 2011

Michael Portillo, discussing the plight of the Christian B&B owners sued over their double bed policy, has expressed concern at the dangers posed by a “secular theocracy”.

Although Mr Portillo does not agree with the B&B owners’ beliefs, he is concerned about the erosion of personal liberty.

The former cabinet minister made the comment on last night’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s the Moral Maze, examining the ongoing conflict between religious belief and human rights law.

Beliefs

Other members of the show’s panel also expressed concern that the law had gone too far in restricting the rights of people to manifest their religious beliefs.

Referring to the dangers posed by the emergence of “secular theocracy” Mr Portillo said: “I’m not on the receiving end of this at the moment at all because I’m not a religious person.

“But I can easily conceive of how I could be on the receiving end of some future legislation.”

Mr Portillo also urged people to realise that such laws are not the result of a social consensus. Rather, he said, they are the result of lobbying by a few people to shape public opinion.

Mockery

Co-panelist Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, also expressed concerns over the erosion of liberty.

Referring to comments made by one of the show’s guests she said: “I thought it was hilarious when our first witness kind of said well, you know they’re allowed to have those views but they’re not allowed to do anything with them.

“I mean it basically makes a mockery of religion if that’s the case; it’d be kind of religion-lite.

“You can think that in the privacy of your bedroom, as we in fact used to say but certainly you can’t do anything about it.”

Public

Matthew Taylor, Tony Blair’s former chief political advisor, insisted that people were still free to voice their beliefs in public.

But Clifford Longley, a Roman Catholic writer, accused him of missing the point, saying: “It’s not about saying things in public, it’s about doing things in public. It’s about the right to act according to your beliefs.”

Last night’s debate was chaired by Michael Buerk.

Plight

The plight of the Christian guesthouse owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull has attracted widespread sympathy.

Commenting on the case earlier this week Ann Widdecombe, a former Conservative MP, said: “There is a difference between discriminating against somebody because of what he is and refusing to promote or facilitate what he does.

“If the Bulls ran a grocery shop which refused to serve homosexuals then that would be discrimination but to refuse to facilitate their activity or that of an unmarried heterosexual couple by providing a double bed is not. It is the once lawful exercise of conscience against particular deeds.”

Harmless

Miss Widdecombe’s concern over the case was echoed by Robert Leitch, an openly homosexual Tory activist.

Writing on the widely-respected ConservativeHome blog, Mr Leitch said: “The reaction to this somewhat traditional yet harmless policy has been remarkable.

“Mr and Mrs Bull have been tagged as homophobes, taken to court, forced to justify their literal interpretation of the Bible, told by the Judge involved that their views are out of date and, finally, given a punishment which will place significant strain upon their business’ finances.

“In the end, the penalty for holding a diverse viewpoint has been extreme.”

Infuriates

He added: “I am not a Christian. I do not hold any such stringent views about married or unmarried couples.

“Yet, as an openly gay man in a happy, long-term relationship, it infuriates me when equality groups tell me that cases such as the above should be celebrated as victories for the ‘homosexual community’.

“Sorry, but I refuse to be confined to any such sub-section of society.”

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