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Religious Tolerance logo

2014 & 2015: Northern Ireland:

The "Northern Ireland Freedom
of Conscience Amendment Bill"
is filed in the Northern Ireland
Assembly
to legalize religiously-
based discrimination by anyone
against anyone.

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Part 1 of two parts

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gay marriage  

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  • scale symbol2014-DEC: Paul Givan, is a member of the Northern Irish Assembly for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). This party is strongly conservatives on some moral topics like abortion and capital punishment. It has held strong homophobic beliefs in the past, but appears to have been moderating somewhat in this area during recent years.

Givan introduced a "Conscience clause" bill similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) recently passed in the U.S. It is called the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill. It would allow Public Accommodations -- companies that offer goods and services to the public -- to freely discriminate against any of their customers on the basis of the owner's sincerely held religious beliefs. Givan said:

"What we cannot have is a hierarchy of rights, and today there’s a clear hierarchy being established that gay rights are more important than the rights of people to hold religious beliefs." 1

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Webmaster's opinion [bias alert]:

Note that he compares:

  • "Gay rights:" whether members of the LGBT community are discriminated against,

with:

  • "Religious beliefs" -- the right of people to hold different beliefs, based on their faith.

A better comparison would be to consider:

  • "Gay rights:" whether members of the LGBT community are discriminated against,

compared with:

  • "Religiously based right to discriminate" -- the right of people to apply their religious beliefs by discriminating against others in violation of the Golden Rule. This rule, which expects people to do onto others as they would wish others would do onto them, is found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and all other major religions.

The court ruling against Ashers Bakery in Belfast County Court during 2015-MAR gave a major impetus to Givan's proposed legislation. During 2015-MAY, when the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court's ruling, the bill was given another boost.

If Givan's bill becomes law, it would give persons with "strongly held" religious beliefs exemption from human rights laws. One result would be that any store such as a bakery, pharmacy, etc. or a wedding venues, or a wedding photographer, etc. would be able to refuse service to people on religious grounds. Presumably:

  • Christians could refuse to serve Agnostics, Atheists, Jews, Muslims, etc. and vice-versa.

  • Religious store owners could refuse to sell contraceptives to anyone, or to anyone who is not married, or to anyone who is not an adult.

  • Store owners could refuse to sell anything to a potential customer who is divorced, or in an interracial marriage, or is a member of the LGBT community, etc.

In short, nobody could enter a store and be certain that they will be able to buy whatever they want. Society would be profoundly destabilized if store owners were able to apply freely their religious beliefs by discriminating against their potential customers.

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Webmaster's review [Bias alert]:

Both Paul Given of the DUP, some personnel at the Ashers Bakery, and others appear to be equating two forms of religious freedom, even as others regard them as separate, They are:

  1. The historical meaning of "religious freedom:" This includes the freedom of religious belief, assembly, speech, writing, and proselytizing. These freedoms are guaranteed to owners, management, and employees at the bakery, and to everyone else in Northern Ireland. All are free to believe that same-gender sexual behavior is condemned by God, that sexually active gays and lesbians will automatically go to Hell after death, that a person's sexual orientation is chosen, not discovered, that transgender persons are merely gender confused, and that anyone can change their sexual orientation in adulthood, with a bit of effort. Meanwhile, everyone is also free to hold the opposite beliefs. They can freely talk, give speeches, and write about their beliefs with impunity.

  2. The newly emerging religious freedom to apply their religious beliefs by actively discriminating against others: to limit other people's civil rights by discriminating against them, belittling, denigrating them, and/or refusing to serve them. Most democracies have human rights legislation that ban discrimination by public accommodations (PA's). These laws often protect customers from discrimination on the basis of gender, race, nationality etc. Some of these laws and ordinances also ban discrimination on the basis of the customers' sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

I suggest that Paul Givan is wrong. People are free to hold all types of religious beliefs, to express those beliefs, to meet with like-minded believers in religious gatherings, and to proselytize based on those beliefs. However, I feel that they should not necessarily have the freedom to take actions that hurt others through discrimination based on those beliefs. That is the specific purpose of human rights codes, laws, and ordinances. Given's bill would nullify major human rights protections throughout Northern Ireland.

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Reactions to the "Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill:"

Paul Givan asked interested individuals and groups to comment on the proposed legislation. Some of the groups made submissions that are quite long and should be read in their entirety to get a full understanding of their content. We have briefly described a few important points from some submissions below.

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Opinions varied, even among Christian groups:

  • favor Canon Charles Kenny, spokesperson for the Church of Ireland (Anglican), commented:

    "The negative effects of the proposed conscience clause will increase unreasonable and oppressive hostility towards our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) fellow citizens. We believe this proposal is viewed by many people of faith and by others as a straightforward attack on LGBT community and it is not consistent with the loving and inclusive message of Christianity." 2

  • favor Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International issued a statement saying:

    "What is proposed is not a conscience clause, it is a discrimination clause. This change to the law is not welcome and it is not needed. The law already strikes a fair balance between the human right to freedom of religion and the human right not to suffer discrimination. Northern Ireland's First Minister should concentrate on eradicating inequalities already faced by members of the LGBTI community here, rather than lending his support to a discriminatory new law. He could start by publishing Stormont’s long overdue sexual orientation strategy, which could help tackle homophobia in Northern Ireland society." 2

    "Stormont" is a reference to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

  • favor 2014-DEC: A petition was launched by Dervla McGaughey of Omagh in opposition to the bill. It was supported by the gay presenter, comedian, and writer Stephen Fry.  He labeled the DUP's conscience clause bill as "sick" and urged people to sign the petition on change.org which opposed it. By late 2015-FEB, almost 20,000 people had signed the petition.

    Fry tweeted:

    "Please sign this: Once again the religious right [is] twisting truth to present themselves as victims. Sick." 3

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The bill is discussed further in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. " 'Gay cake row' Judge rules against Ashers bakery," BBC News, 2015-MAY-19, at: http://www.bbc.com/
  2. Joseph Patrick McCormick, "Catholic Church voices support for DUP bill to permit anti-gay discrimination," Pink News, 2015-FEB-24, at: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/
  3. Claire Cromie, "Stephen Fry says DUP conscience clause bill is 'sick'," Belfast Telegraph, 2014-DEC-17, at: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/

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How you may have arrived here:

Home > Religious Freedom > Freedom to Discriminate > N. Ireland > here

Home > Imp. > Rel. Freedom > Freedom to Discriminate > N. Ireland > here

Home > Rel. Info. > Rel Freedom > Freedom to Discriminate > N. Ireland > here

Home > Human rights > Rel. Freedom > Freedom to Discriminate > N. Ireland > here

Home>Hot rel. topics>Homosexuality/Bisexuality>Discriminate>N. Ireland > here

Home > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality/Bisexuality > Media > N. Ireland > here

 Home > Transgender topics > N. Ireland > here

 Home > "Hot" topics > Transgender topics > N. Ireland > here

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-OCT-28
Latest update : 2016-NOV-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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