Mar 14 2012

Lord Justice Laws

Geoff Whelan at QED recommended to me Lord Justice Laws’s judgement in McFarlane v Relate Avon Limited. It’s a joy to read, he said, so I read it. It is.

The case is the guy who was dismissed for refusing to provide sex counselling to gay couples even though that was part of his job. He claimed religious discrimination. George Carey, the retired archbishop of Canterbury who now writes for the Daily Mail, gave a witness statement.

10. The description of religious faith in relation to sexual ethics as ‘discriminatory’ is crude; and illuminates a lack of sensitivity to religious belief. The Christian message of ‘love’ does not demean or disparage any individual (regardless of sexual orientation); the desire of the Christian is to limit self destructive conduct by those of any sexual orientation and ensure the eternal future of an individual with the Lord.

11. The field of sexual ethics and Christian (and other religious) teaching on this subject is a field of complex theology for debate by the Church and other religious institutions. The vast majority of the more than 2 billion Christians would support the views held by Ms Ladele. The descriptive word ‘discriminatory’ is unbefitting and it is regrettable that senior members of the Judiciary feel able to make such disparaging comments.

12. The comparison of a Christian, in effect, with a ‘bigot’ (ie a person with an irrational dislike to homosexuals) begs further questions. It is further evidence of a disparaging attitude to the Christian faith and its values. In my view, the highest development of human spirituality is acceptance of Christ as saviour and adherence to Christian values. This cannot be seen by the Courts of this land as comparable to the base and ignorant behaviour. My heart is in anguish at the spiritual state of this country.

Right. Christians can’t be bigots, because they’re Christians, which is the highest development of spirituality, so that couldn’t possibly be the same as bigotry, because it’s higher. The courts of that land have to see it that way. They have to, I tell you.

I appeal to the Lord Chief Justice to establish a specialist Panel of Judges designated to hear cases engaging religious rights. Such Judges should have a proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues and I would be supportive of Judges of all faiths and denominations being allocated to such a Panel. The Judges engaged in the cases listed above should recuse themselves from further adjudication on such matters as they have made clear their lack of knowledge about the Christian faith.

So that Christians can do whatever they want to without anyone saying that’s bigotry, because the specialist judges will already think what we want them to think, because they have proven sensitivity and understanding and we know what they will rule.

Lord Justice Laws…

the conferment of any legal protection or preference upon a particular substantive moral position on the ground only that it is espoused by the adherents of a particular faith, however long its tradition, however rich its culture, is deeply unprincipled. It imposes compulsory law, not to advance the general good on objective grounds, but to give effect to the force of subjective opinion. This must be so, since in the eye of everyone save the believer religious faith is necessarily subjective, being incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence. It may of course be true; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society. Therefore it lies only in the heart of the believer, who is alone bound by it. No one else is or can be so bound, unless by his own free choice he accepts its claims.

The promulgation of law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot therefore be justified. It is irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective. But it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary. We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens; and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic. The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law; but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.

Now here’s a funny thing. I Googled the case to make sure the judgement is online so that it would be ok for me to quote from it. One of the top items on the search was…

A post by our friend Eric on this very subject in January 2011. I remember reading it at the time, and finding it a joy to read.



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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.

    Thank you, Lord Justice Laws. Bigotry, even with religious justification, is still bigotry.

  2. 2

    He even gives George Carey a lesson in the meaning of the word ‘discrimination’. A beautifully and succinctly argued judgement. As you say, a joy to read.

  3. 3

    Bigot doesn’t realise he’s a bigot. What’s new?

  4. 4

    This argument is so ridiculous because it basically allows religious people to advocate for anything and claim it can’t be immoral because it’s what their religion teaches. There are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world who believe that Islam is the “he highest development of human spirituality”, so their views on women can’t be called misogynistic. Most southern racists in the US were also “good” Christians who simply believed that blacks were inferior due to the curse of Ham. How can that be racist?

    The problem is that there are really two choices. Either each religion can legitimately justify any atrocity due to their sincere beliefs, or they have to admit that there are clear and obvious secular ethics that trump religious discrimination. The former is absurd and the latter essentially forfeits the game.

  5. 5
    Svlad Cjelli

    If I could legitimately call myself Lord Justice Laws, I would do so all of the time. I would pretend to not hear other forms of address.

  6. 6

    It may of course be true; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society.

    This is the only part I would contest, particularly the first clause. A statement of fact, and religious claims are certainly such, stands or falls upon the evidence for or against it. To claim that any fact is reality when it cannot be demonstrated empirically is to give in the foolish concept of “other ways of knowing”. We don’t accept this nonsense in any other sphere of life, so we shouldn’t accept it with regard to religion, either.

  7. 7
    Dan J Bye

    It was a remarkable opinion. The decision in the case itself was rather dull, and Laws effectively dealt with it in a couple of sentences at the end of his judgement. You get the feeling he really enjoyed delivering a take-down of Carey in the absence of anything more meaty.

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    kagerato – but the first clause is necessary. The point is, even if religious faith gets everything right, it’s still true that the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society. That’s the part that really matters. They don’t know what they claim to know, and that’s why they can’t impose what they claim to know but don’t know on everyone else.

  9. 9
    Dr Brydon

    “…the desire of the Christian is to limit self destructive conduct by those of any sexual orientation and ensure the eternal future of an individual with the Lord.”

    This is what I keep coming back to. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. That is the most bothersome thing about religion: the need to mind everyone else’s business. That’s the right they really want.

    The quote from Justice Laws is excellent. I’ll be saving that.

  10. 10

    “Lord Justice Laws” is one of those names, like “Staff Sergeant Max Fightmaster”, which is almost too perfectly suitable to be real. It’s a good thing his legal opinions live up to his moniker.

  11. 11

    I have been thinking on this general subject lately and realized that the religious are basically asking for religion to be an institutionalized insanity plea. This leads, e.g. to religious exemptions from vaccination.

    And, in a sense it is difficult to argue against this viewpoint. If a person sincerely believes that following the law will lead to their eternal damnation, how can you hold them accountable for actions that contravert the law? It is really no different than someone doing what the voices in their head say for fear that they will be killed if they don’t.

    That is what is so scary about religion and why it should be opposed rather than tolerated.

  12. 12

    @kagerato (#6),

    re: “It may of course be true; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society.”

    I like it. He’s basically incorporated Russel’s Teapot into case law.

  13. 13

    @SAWells, let’s not forget our own Mr. Justice Learned Hand.

    But, yes, when I first encountered Justice Laws, it was in a rather badly written article, and I had to do a search to see if this was really a judge named Laws.

  14. 14

    Don’t forget the current Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales whose name trumps Major Major’s (IMHO)(as if being named Igor wasn’t enough)

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