British courts are wrongfully penalising Christians through an “incorrect interpretation” of human rights laws, a Roman Catholic Archbishop has warned.
Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark said judges were guilty of “woolly thinking” and expressed concern at the bias Christians face when taking a moral stance in line with their beliefs.
The Archbishop’s comments related to four religious liberty cases now heading for the European Court of Human Rights.
He said the British courts had not upheld Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
One of the cases heading for Europe is that of Lillian Ladele, a marriage registrar who was disciplined because she asked whether her religious beliefs about same-sex civil partnerships could be accommodated in her workplace.
Miss Ladele took her employers to a tribunal claiming religious discrimination, saying she had been bullied because of her beliefs. She won her case initially, but the decision was overturned on appeal.
The Archbishop, who is also the vice-president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the “courts are misinterpreting the law”.
He made his comments after the Equality and Human Rights Commission sought the views of a group of Roman Catholic Bishops on the four cases.
Archbishop Smith said that Christians must be allowed to act according to their consciences and “not be obliged to do something they know or believe… to be wrong”.
“There seems to be a prejudice against Christians or against the manifestation of the Christian faith which totally puzzles me,” he added. “I think it is woolly thinking, to be honest.”
The Archbishop said that whenever there was a conflict of rights between Christians and homosexuals, for instance, the courts were consistently “coming down heavily on one side and totally ignoring the other”.
“The law properly applied wouldn’t disadvantage anybody but would ensure that we all could exercise our rights fairly,” Archbishop Smith said.