Churches sue Government over planned gay rights laws
The High Court in Belfast has today given permission for a judicial review of the Sexual Orientation Regulations ( Northern Ireland) 2006. The judicial review will examine whether the public consultation for the regulations was faulty and whether the regulations themselves break the Human Rights Act relating to freedom of religion. Mr Justice Deeny will announce on Thursday (21 December) whether or not the regulations will be suspended pending the judicial review hearing.
Critics of the regulations say the laws will limit the religious freedom of churches and Christian groups to act according to the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics. The Westminster Government has delayed the implementation of the regulations for England, Scotland and Wales in order to unscramble the legal difficulties. But Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has rushed the regulations through for the Province.
The Christian Institute has taken the legal action supported by a number of Northern Ireland church denominations representing over 15,000 Christians. A number of politician also support the judicial review.
Callum Webster, Northern Ireland Officer of The Christian Institute, said:
“We are delighted that the High Court has given the go ahead for this legal action. We believe there is a big question mark over the legality of the regulations. There is clearly a case to answer. We call upon the Government to withdraw these regulations for Northern Ireland so that more time can be given to unscrambling the legal mess they cause. Christian individuals and groups should not face the threat of litigation simply for acting according to their beliefs.”
Alderman Seamus Close, Alliance Party MLA for Lagan Valley constituency, said:
“Political Correctness has gone mad when the Government pushes through legislation that will allow the owners of a family-run Bed & Breakfast to be sued for refusing to give a homosexual couple a double bed in their own home! Once again the views of people from both religious traditions in Northern Ireland are being trampled on by the Government at Westminster.”
Mr George Dawson, DUP MLA for East Antrim constituency, said:
“These regulations fly in the face of opposition from both Protestants and Roman Catholics and are being implemented for the benefit of a tiny vociferous minority. These regulations are a charter for the persecution of anyone with a moral conscience. A Christian wedding photographer could be taken to court because on grounds of his faith he refuses to take part in a civil partnership ceremony. The legal costs alone could bankrupt his business. This is bad law and will result in the harassment of Christian people. Peter Hain must think again.”
Alderman Danny O’Connor, SDLP Mayor of Larne Borough Council, said:
“The Prime Minister is fast-tracking oppressive laws into Northern Ireland statute. These regulations include a harassment clause that will open the door to spurious complaints against religious groups. The school curriculum and assemblies are not exempted from the regulations. So an aggrieved pupil could sue a teacher who taught that sex is only for marriage. The Government must revise its plans to protect freedom of religion. We must not be used as the guinea pigs for this controversial legislation.”
Dr Esmond Birnie, UUP MLA for South Belfast constituency, said:
“The Sexual Orientation Regulations are yet another diktat from the NIO. The religious exemptions included are merely a fig leaf and could see legal actions launched against churches and religious charities who are seeking to help the most vulnerable in our society. A church-run old people’s home that contracts with a local authority to provide residential care for elderly people could be sued if it refused to provide a lesbian couple with a married couple’s room. The Government must shelve these plans.”