Hain challenged to withdraw Regulations
The Christian Institute has challenged the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to withdraw the new Sexual Orientation Regulations. The Institute is considering launching a judicial review because the Regulations blatantly infringe religious liberty and involve a fatally flawed consultation process.
The new Regulations outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods, services and education on the grounds of sexual orientation. Fines range between £500 and £15,000 but up to £25,000 for repeated breaches.
The problem is that the Regulations are so loosely worded that they enable court actions over church membership, teaching on marriage in schools, or the ethos of a religious charity. Religious magazines could be sued for refusing to take adverts from gay rights groups. A wedding photographer could lose his livelihood for refusing to cover a civil partnership ceremony.
The Regulations can be used to override matters of Christian conscience or to harass Christians on their beliefs. If a gay rights group does not like a particular Christian charity it could hound the charity in the courts. This is not at all far fetched. In the USA the Scouts have had to spend over $1 million defending the organisation from hostile litigation from gay rights groups using similar laws.
The Regulations have been fast-tracked at an astonishing speed. For the rest of the UK, the Government is taking well over 6 months to resolve the complex legal issues following a public consultation. Peter Hain took 6 weeks and 2 days after his consultation before finalising the Regulations.
Colin Hart, Director of the Christian Institute, said:
“The Regulations bear all the hallmarks of a rushed time-scale. They almost appear to establish a right for homosexuals not to be disagreed with. They would cover a conversation in a Christian bookshop or a pastoral conversation with a church minister.
“The homosexual harassment provision is so broadly drafted that it nullifies what partial exemptions churches are given. A minister can say to a practising homosexual (as he would an adulterer), ‘I’m sorry, you can’t be a member of my church until you repent and turn to Christ,’ but his explanation could be the subject of a harassment claim if the individual is offended. A teacher who says that sex is only for marriage could be accused of harassment by a pupil sympathetic to gay rights – and this would also apply to denominational schools.
“Peter Hain talks about equality. But he should read his own Regulations which elevate gay rights above all other rights for religious people, and rights on the grounds of age, sex and disability. It is a preferential status which will drive a coach and horses through religious liberty.
“These Regulations go much further than anything on religion. The Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 provided broad exceptions for schools, but these Regulations do not. So you can sue to put homosexuality on the curriculum, but not to keep it out.
“The concerns of religious people and organisations have been trampled over by an unfair consultation process with the resulting laws threatening freedom of religion and conscience. We’re taking action to protect the many Christian people in Northern Ireland who will become victims of frivolous accusations if these Regulations become law.”
Note for editors:
- A fuller briefing is available on our website http://www.christian.org.uk/soregs/ni_briefing_1dec06.pdf
- The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 are due to come into force on 1st January. These Regulations have been brought in by Peter Hain using direct rule powers.