Saturday 13 April 2013

Opinion: Homosexuality and the confusion of beliefs in a secular setting

The duty of the state to children
Two cases of Christianity running into conflict with homosexuality in the courts bring to the fore the need for people with devout beliefs to understand the extents to which they by law will be allowed to influence debate in a broader secular society.
Both cases had to do with access to children and more pertinently access to the children’s minds in terms of fostering and teaching.
Good parents, indeed
There is no doubt that Mr and Mrs Johns, aged 65 and 62 respectively have been good foster parents having fostered 15 children with four grown children and grandchildren of their own, they deserve credit.
However, whilst they have license as parents to bring up their own children in the way they see fit, right, with love, with care and all the religious control they might have to bear on the impressionable minds of their own children – foster care involves the state.
The state is by and large secular, recognising people of diverse backgrounds, beliefs and persuasions whilst protecting the rights of both majority and minority to operate with civility towards each other in the public space.
The changing society
It behoves the state not to place children in view of extant rights and protections in the parental care of people who might trammel the open-minded broader view of the world a child will have when interacting with society and this where fundamentalist religious beliefs and broader secularist thinking conflicts.
The state is not denying the Johns’ the right to believe whatever doctrines they adhere to, that is a right they exercise with full prerogative, but where the state feels that parental care under fostering guidelines will expose a child to teachings that will narrow a child’s outlook good as they might seem, the state must act in the interests of the child and protect that child from influences that could put it at some disadvantage when the child decides to express itself in a wider community.
The headline does suggests Christian beliefs lose out to gay rights [Daily Mail], but the broader issue is beyond that catchy title, the secular state must give all beliefs equality before the law and perform the balancing act of preventing the undue influence of those who have beliefs over those who believe differently or have no persuasion whatsoever to believe either way.
Don’t confuse entitlement with freedom of expression
The second case concerns Robert Haye [Pink Paper], a secondary school teacher in South London who as a Seventh-Day Adventist expressed reprehensible views about homosexuality before a class of students aged 15-16 and in another class of pupils aged 13-14 suggested those who worship on a Sunday are worshipping the devil.
Mr Haye is quite entitled to his beliefs and he is free to share them with anyone who is an adult, a free moral agent with the right, opportunity and mien to challenge such assertions if they deem fit.
However, when children are in a school, they are wards of the state that dictates a curriculum and programme of education that prepares the children for the world they live in.
Forgetting responsibilities
Mr Haye as a teacher is in a position of authority and influence, it means he has a responsibility to understand that his class is not an extension of the temple wherein he worships, he is paid to educate guided by a syllabus and not to fulminate contemning those who have a difference of opinion or beliefs from his own.
The children in his class will come from varied backgrounds many of which Mr Haye might find antithetical to his belief system but the state cannot allow a situation where a child is made to feel inferior for any reason in a school environment – the issue here again is not about Mr Haye’s rights to have his beliefs but about understanding his responsibilities in a secular setting under the employ of the state with access to influence children.
The society is diverse
That is where Mr Haye was lacking in perception and judgement; that he was relieved of his commission as a teacher was a just consequence and his lament that his career has been destroyed is a situation of his own making – it should not be blamed on Christianity or the abrading his rights to believe whatever he does but on the fact that he was lacking in judgement when he expressed those views in the wrong setting and before the wrong audience.
The judge was unequivocal in his assessment of the matter in saying, “This case is not about the right of a teacher to hold sincerely-held beliefs based on the Bible in relation to homosexuality or attendance at church on Sundays. It has been about how those beliefs and views are manifested in the context of teaching in schools with young people with diverse sexuality, backgrounds and beliefs.
He could not do it
No one was asking Mr Haye to recant his beliefs, what the state was asking of him was if he is to be placed before young people as an employee of the state to teach, he should keep to the script. Where he has opinions on a subject outside that remit he must be conversant of the fact that the young people before him, are from such diverse backgrounds that his views must be all-encompassing for inclusiveness not for division and discrimination.
If Mr Haye cannot pass that basic test, he has no business being a teacher in a multi-cultural, multi-dimensional and highly diverse setting like an inner-city school.
Further reading
In other blogs, I have been impressed with the way judges have been able to absent themselves from sentimentality and promote the secularist nature of our democratic societies and nowhere was that better expressed than in this blog - The case for State law over religious guidance.
The bit that caught my attention was this – “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.
Click on the link to read the rest of the views of the aptly named, Lord Justice Laws.

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