Judge to give decision on whether ‘gay rights’ regulations restrict religious liberty
Judgment is expected in the High Court tomorrow over whether new gay rights regulations threaten religious liberty. Mr Justice Weatherup will give his judgment in Belfast’s High Court on Tuesday Morning at 9.30am.
Churches say that under the regulations they could be sued for preaching that homosexual practice is wrong. A school could also be sued if a Christian teacher tells children that he or she disagrees with homosexuality.
Church run old people’s homes and adoption agencies could lose public funding and close down. Christians in business such as wedding photographers or B& B owners could lose their livelihood if they refuse to treat homosexual partners as equal to married couples.
The Sexual Orientation Regulations were drawn up by Peter Hain using direct rule powers.
During the hearing the judge raised repeated questions about the harassment provisions (which only apply in Northern Ireland and not Great Britain). The judge closely questioned the Government QC about how the Regulations would impact on preaching and on education.
Legal options for the judge range from doing nothing to quashing the regulations entirely. In between these two ends of the legal spectrum the judge could:
- strike down the harassment provisions
- make a declaration that parts of the Regulations are incompatible with the Human Rights Act. Such a declaration could effectively block certain cases being brought against Christians which restrict their religious liberty
- give a binding interpretation of the regulations to prevent them being used to restrict religious liberty
- urge the Northern Ireland Assembly to revise the Regulations
The Christian Institute took the legal action along with a wide spectrum of Northern Ireland’s evangelical churches. During the legal proceedings the Northern Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church intervened to agree with the Institute’s case.
The case was very strongly opposed by the Equality Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Coalition on Sexual Orientation (CoSO) which also intervened.
The judicial review involved six days of hearings. The Institute was represented by James Dingemans QC and David Scoffield BL.
Colin Hart said today
“We believe that we have put a strong case. We hope and pray that the judge agrees with it. Even the Government QC accepted that the harassment provisions could be used against preachers. Free speech is at the centre of our concerns, so too is freedom of conscience. It’s wrong to use the law to force people to do things against their deepest beliefs.”