Backers of UK Equality Bill throw in the towel

A roundup of some of today’s stories on the Equality Bill in UK, including the pope’s intervention.

Equality Minister backs down over employment equality for churches – The Times

Harriet Harman has backed away from a confrontation with religious leaders over who they can employ, making clear that she will not force contentious amendments to the Equality Bill through Parliament.

Ministers were astonished on Monday when the Pope said that the Bill violated “natural justice” and urged bishops to fight it. But that attack, along with the strength of opposition in the Lords [in which the votes by C of E bishops was pivotal] and the limited time left to get Bills passed before the election, has sapped the Government’s enthusiasm to continue the fight.

Pope faces protests on UK visit over equality attack – The Times

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster today attempted to defuse a row that threatens to overshadow the Pope’s forthcoming visit to Britain by claiming that Benedict XVI was merely giving voice to what many people felt when he attacked this country’s record of promoting equal rights for gays.

Surprise at the Pope’s remarks was giving way today to more determined opposition to his views, with the National Secular Society vowing to set up a Protest the Pope campaign to hold demonstrations during Benedict’s visit this year.

Catholic unease at the Government’s Equality Bill is shared by the Church of England, whose bishops have helped to inflict defeats on the proposed law as it passed through the House of Lords.

Pope Benedict XVI misses the point in his attack on UK equality law – The Times, Ruth Gledhill

In A Letter Concerning Toleration John Locke described the need “to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other”.

The question the Pope seems to skate over is whether religious communities can legitimately choose for themselves their own constitutional arrangements. The Pope’s view is a misunderstanding of that principle. Religious toleration involves not passing laws that aid a religion or elevate one religion over others. Laws that subject religion to the same responsibilities on discrimination as civil society are not a violation of religious liberty because they do not penalise religion.

Pope criticised for ‘inept’ attack on UK Equality Bill – Ekklesia

Pope Benedict scores easy victory in Britain – NCR

Added. This argument is about the principles of a plural society, with real moral disagreements – Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt

Those who believe that the churches and faiths are wrong on various matters of sexual ethics, or in having an all male priesthood or requirements concerning marriage and divorce, want to use the law to compel us to act differently. That is an extraordinarily illiberal stance – “error has no rights”!

The problem of modernity is how to order ethical life in a society of strangers – or at least, a society where close bonds of kin and community are weak, and in which there is no single moral story shared by all. Baldly put, there are two options: to impose a single moral order on everyone; or to establish a social structure which encourages genuine pluralism and diversity, and generates a community of communities, each living according to their authentic moral code, the role of the state being to police the margins and mediate when moralities clash.

The church is often accused of seeking to impose its own story, its own morality, on everybody. But we have argued consistently for a long time for the second version of a liberal society – one where difference is allowed to flourish and is not subjected to a single version of morality imposed on everyone – still less a thoroughly illiberal society where some seek to banish others from public debate.

Addition 2. Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth writing in The Times

John F. Kennedy made a similar statement in his great inaugural address: “The rights of Man come not from the generosity of the State, but from the hand of God.” That is why using the ideology of human rights to assault religion risks undermining the very foundation of human rights themselves.

It’s a triple header. Addition 3. ABY speaks on tolerance and magnimity – ICN

Britain has become in many ways, a less tolerant society today. One of the main areas in which we see this is in the government’s treatment of Religion which they now prefer to call ‘faith communities’. …

Our communities must surely be models of that Heavenly City, places which give us a glimpse of what heaven will be like. Communities of reconciliation, love and justice, which share in the foretaste of God’s eternal kingdom cannot be monochrome. The vision of the Holy City is one of a place filled with people from all nations, coming together with all the treasures of their culture and civilization. Nothing is excluded from the Holy City except that which is contrary to the character of God.

We are more likely to hear the language of people asserting their rights, waving the terms of the contract under someone’s nose and getting in first. Yet it is these positive virtues of gracious magnanimity which I believe could help us to transform our country today. … The person who is immoderate is the person who stands up for the last title deeds of their legal rights; but the person who is graciously magnanimous knows that there are times when a thing may be legally completely justified and yet morally completely wrong.

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