Friday 30 April 2010

The case for State law over religious guidance

Civic responsibility above religious beliefs

In the light of the tussles between religious beliefs and civil obligations, I could not have wished for a better reference for legal opinion than one that was part of the rejection of an appeal based on a sacking the appellant believed was religious discrimination.

A marriage guidance counsellor with Relate [1] – a secular relationships guidance organisation – refused to offer counselling to same-sex couples due to his religious beliefs which were Christian in inclination leading to his being relieved of his duties.

The UK has seen a number of cases of civil servants refusing to perform their objective work functions on the grounds of it prejudicing their beliefs and hence withholding public services from people who do not seem to conform to their standards or moral values.

The gravitas of religious leaders contemned

In this case the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lard Carey even made representations to the Lord Justice on this matter and there has been a certain Christian persecution complex that has been gaining activist fervour with the subtext that Christians are no more allowed to express themselves with conviction – the converse of which is the appearance of prejudice and bigotry in Christian attitudes that are less than communal and inclusive.

Lord Justice Laws made some very far-reaching statements that could prove useful in dealing with religious laws in Nigeria whilst give all citizens equal access to a uniformly accepted set of laws dispensing justice and protecting rights without depending on any belief system apart from plainly being a member of that society.

The legal case is made for completely keeping religion out of State, civil matters and the law, the full text of this judgement should for all purposes be required reading for any student of law and I liberally quote from the statements made in the article as written in the Guardian [2].

Justice cannot be given a religious tint

He said, “Legislation to protect views held purely on religious grounds could not be justified, it is an irrational idea and it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary.

The Archbishop called for a special panel of judges with a "proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues" to hear the case. He went on to say, recent court decisions involving Christians had used "dangerous" reasoning and this could lead to civil unrest.

This is not to suggest that the archbishop was intent on invoking a mob to run riot against judges that weigh the facts of cases before them objectively without the influence and prejudice of religious faith, but that could deny non-adherent justice if civil issues are adjudicated by a panel of clergy-like lords.

Uniform laws for all

The Lord Justice then went on to say, “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.

I do not think any stronger statement can be made for eliminating Sharia Law from being a part of the legal system in Nigeria on the basis that even in Northern Nigerian were the majority might be Muslim, all people do not share uniform religious beliefs.

"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.

Taking religion out of civil society

This is where it gets untenable, if the people are to be free, the state has to think for itself and not be bound by religious laws over which there can be no reasoning or it can be subject to malevolent interpretation in the hands of those whose religious influence might not necessarily be commensurate with the required legal training to administer justice fairly and honestly.

Whilst Lord Carey was at liberty to say, “The description of religious faith in relation to sexual ethics as 'discriminatory' is crude and illuminates a lack of sensitivity to religious belief.” It can also be said that religious faith that cannot comprehend or tolerate difference in humanity is insensitive and inimical to societal cohesion.

In essence, religion must well be kept in the religious houses where the people congregate for worship and where the 'religious' people mix with other facets of society the character, personality and quality of the person by reason of their beliefs should not be obvious; adequate discretion must be exercised as to what you have faith in.


[1] Relate | About Us

[2] Christian counsellor loses court fight over sacking | UK news |

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