The assault on religious freedom continues. Governments here in the United States and across the Atlantic are growing ever more comfortable forcing believers to act against their moral and religious beliefs. The latest example is a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. The court declared that mere religious belief must give way to avoid infringing on the rights of homosexuals.
In the case titled Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom, a government clerk refused to register same-sex couples, and a marriage counselor refused to work with homosexual couples. The court’s ruling sets a disturbing precedent in a growing war against people of faith.
Lillian Ladele, a registrar in the Borough of Islington, London, lost her job for refusing to register same-sex couples seeking civil partnerships. Gary McFarlane, the marriage counselor, was fired for refusing to work with homosexual couples. Both claimed their religious rights had been violated, in keeping with the European Convention on Human Rights protections. The court ruled against them, finding in Mr. McFarlane’s case that his “objection to providing psychosexual therapy to same-sex couples could not be described as the practice of religion in a generally recognized form.”
Traditional norms of religious believers, sanctioned by all major religious faiths for hundreds of years, are thus set aside. Discrimination is deemed acceptable in the name of nondiscrimination if the target of malice is a religious believer.
A petition to the White House asks the government to designate the Roman Catholic Church as a “hate group” for its defense of traditional marriage. The petition, which so far has attracted fewer than 4,000 signatures, must have 25,000 signatures by Thursday to get an official response. The petition isn’t likely to collect enough signatures to get an answer, but the mere filing of it is a sign of cultural decline. So, too, was the stunt earlier this month in which four women appeared topless and waving signs in St. Peter’s Square, disrupting a sermon by Pope Benedict XVI to protest the “anti-gay” position of the Catholic Church.
Two weeks ago, President Obama’s inaugural committee pressured the Rev. Louie Giglio, who was scheduled to pronounce the benediction on the presidential inaugural, to withdraw from the ceremony for rebuking homosexual behavior in remarks made years ago. Rebuking what he regards as sin is what a clergyman is ordained to do, and his right to say what the sin is, is protected by the same First Amendment that protects the rights of the rest of us. The White House has the right to choose those with whom it wants to pray, but this is the first White House that has been asked to edit and approve religious doctrine.
Sometimes certain fringe groups and pastors lend credibility to claims of victimhood by homosexuals. Westboro Baptist Church, which many Baptists do not regard as a legitimate Baptist church, gets unwarranted media attention for its protests at military funerals and its fiery claims that “God hates gays,” a claim that perverts the Christian view of the Gospel. A Colorado pastor, who calls for “discrimination against homosexuals” and suggests they be “removed” from society, goes over the top, too.
The casualties in the cultural wars are those who merely want to go about their daily business without someone telling them what they should think and do. There is no place for the government — or the courts — approving, or not approving, religious belief. When sincerely held beliefs of religious people are labeled “prejudice” and “hate” by cranks and nuts who seek legal sanction for their own prejudice and bigotry, we all lose.
Mary Beth Baker is associate op-ed editor of The washington Times.