The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is backing the idea of a Bill to introduce a conscience clause in Northern Ireland.
In its response to DUP MLA Paul Givan’s consultation on his Private Member’s Bill, the Presbyterian Church said the concept of “reasonable accommodation should be developed in law”, so that people can “manifest their beliefs” without fear of discrimination.
Givan is hoping to amend equality legislation in order to make reasonable accommodation for people with sincere and deeply-held religious beliefs.
The Presbyterian Church’s submission said: “We are fully supportive of having legislation that upholds the core Christian principle that all people are created with equal value and worth, and therefore no one should be treated as a second-class citizen.”
“We support in principle the objective of finding a better approach to the balancing of rights in relation to the provision of goods, facilities and services”, the submission continued.
The Church also maintained that when the state requires citizens to “produce material which directly conflicts with their core beliefs and values”, it is not acting with respect for personal freedoms.
But the Church did raise concerns about possible “unintended consequences” of the draft legislation, and noted concerns about the scope of some of the wording.
The Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Revd Trevor Gribben, said: “Those political parties, and others, who feel that the specific proposals in the consultation are not the way to proceed, have an obligation to suggest alternative ways to enable a reasonable accommodation on the issue of freedom of conscience in the public square.”
He noted that significant work needs to be done on the “exact nature and wording” of the Bill, but said that as a Church they support the “general objective” of developing reasonable accommodation “within our legal framework”.
This week, the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Ireland lent its support to the principle behind Givan’s conscience clause bid.
Givan is hoping to introduce a conscience clause in light of the Ashers Baking Company case, involving a Christian family facing court for refusing to provide a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
Lawyers for the bakery deny that they breached any laws, but a conscience clause would help to prevent similar cases being brought in the future against people with firmly-held religious views.