Tuesday, January 26, 2010
In the best attended debate of recent years, the House of Lords defeated the Labour government - accepting the three amendments to the Equality Bill, which preserve the freedoms of churches and religious organisations to live out their faith as appropriate.
For the past ten years the Labour party has ruthlessly done all it can to reduce the power of the House of Lords. Under the guise of fairness they attacked British traditions of life peerage, and they carefully attempted to fill the seats with their supporters (often generous financial donors).
I am not opposed to reform of the House of Lords - though after the past year of financial scandals, it is interesting how slow the Labour Party have been to reform their own house.
Having read yesterday's Hansard debate, I believe the reason the Labour Party wish to silence the Lords, is due to the extraordinarily high quality of tolerant, conservative political views, which so many of its members articulate. It is far and away above the standard of thought normally heard in the media. Were it listened to by more thoughtful people, the vacuousness at the heart of the modern secular project would be seen for the sham it is.
Consider this speech, from Lord Pilkington of Oxenford:
My Lords, I want to widen the debate somewhat, because it touches the very roots of democracy in society. It has been a fundamental principle of the democratic state, certainly over the last 100 years, that independent corporations within the state have a freedom and enjoy a freedom. Churches and faith groups are independent corporations. Their life does not spring from the state, but from within their own communities. Freedom, for them, means the right for their members to follow the rules of their faith, provided it does not offend decency or public order.
Even in a different age, less democratic, more intolerant than our present age, this principle was observed. In 1795, the narrow Protestant Parliament of Ireland gave £8,000 to the Catholic Church to build the seminary at Maynooth. The English state, when the Union of Parliaments occurred, continued with this grant, which rose to about £26,000 a year, a lot of money in the early 19th century. The Bill alters all this and we are in grave danger of using the ideology of equality to question the demands that faith communities make on their pastors and followers.
Traditionally, faith schools-the essence of faith in many cases: the Roman Catholic Church almost bankrupted itself to create its schools-demanded that their staff followed the practices of the faith that the school represented. This was certainly the case when I was briefly in charge of a parish in the early 1960s, when teachers in local schools were expected to respect the faith that the school represented and on which the faith had spent large sums of money. The Bill seems to me to restrict this right to employ members of their creed and those who practise their moral code
only to those who are pastors, priests or teach doctrine. I think it ought to extend to many more people, particularly teachers in schools, and not be restricted to that narrow area.
I return where I began: that hard-fought right of independent corporations to express themselves is an important element of what we mean by freedom in the state. Dictators always restricted these rights of churches, trades unions and more, and this, in a funny way, is what we are doing at the moment in the interests of ideology.
In France, savage anticlerical legislation was passed in 1905. The result was 50 years of conflict-fifty years in which charitable activities were restricted-and we see a faint sign of how that could occur with us in what has happened to the Catholic Children's Society. It is a paradox that in the early 19th century the narrow, intolerant Protestant minority was prepared to build a Catholic seminary and that our generation, which is supposedly generous and understanding, is actually restricting the rights of church bodies and inaugurating conflict that can only do harm. I beg noble Lords to support the amendment.
Such articulate speeches shame not only the Labour Government, but a society and media which rests satisfied with far less then the best of intellectual political engagement.
Monday, January 25, 2010
The House of Lords today debate whether or not to narrow the exemption in The Equality Bill.
As the law currently stands, it is lawful for churches and religious organisations to expect employees to live out the beliefs and principles of the religion they are involved with. The Labour Party are attempting to reduce the scope of the exemptions, so that fewer religious posts are free from the anti-discrimination laws of general employment.
What I do not understand, is why political parties are allowed to expect their members to act and behave in accordance with the beliefs of the party - but it is assumed that secular society ought to have the right to over rule churches' ability to employ people who embody their beliefs?
After all, the Labour Party Handbook states:
'6. To be and remain eligible for membership, each
individual member must:
A. accept and conform to the constitution,
programme, principles and policy of the party
8. No member of the party shall engage in conduct
which in the opinion of the NCC is prejudicial, or in
any act which in the opinion of the NCC is grossly
detrimental to the party. Any dispute as to
whether a member is in breach of the provisions
of this sub-clause shall be determined by the NCC
in accordance with Chapter 1 Clause IX above of
the constitutional rules (in chapter Chapter 1
above) and the disciplinary rules and guidelines
(in chapter Chapter 6 below).'
Can the Labour Party give Churches the freedom that it gives itself?
The Bill, however it is phrased will be tested in the courts. Many assume it will be tested by a prosecution against a bishop, minister or church.
Could we perhaps instead test it in a prosecution against the Labour Party?
Thursday, January 07, 2010
I have not been able to post much recently - baby Lewis was born five weeks early, and he has kept us very busy!
Normal service will resume in due course, meanwhile, here is a sermon I preached to welcome in the New Year. It is an exposition of the short letter, 2 John.
God bless and happy new year!
2 John- A New Year's Walk