Former Archbishop attacks judge’s ruling on Christian counsellor

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The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has attacked yesterday’s ruling on a gay counsellor who refused to work with gay couples.

Lord Carey supported the case of Gary McFarlane, who was attempting to appeal a ruling which said he had not been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against.

Yesterday, Lord Justice Laws dismissed the Bristol counsellor’s bid to go to the Court of Appeal, saying that legislation used only to protect religious views could not be justified.

In his ruling, the judge sharply criticised Lord Carey for his arguments in support of Mr McFarlane and said his understanding of the law was “mistaken”.

The former Archbishop had sent a witness statement to the court in which he claimed that judgments against Christians could lead to civil unrest and argued that such cases should be tried specially by judges with “proven sensitivity” to religious issues.

But Lord Justice Laws rebutted his argument, calling it “deeply unprincipled” and added: “I am sorry that he finds it possible to suggest a procedure that would, in my judgment, be deeply inimical to the public interest.”

He added that the suggestion that Christians should be protected above other beliefs was “divisive, capricious and arbitrary”.

Today, Lord Carey warned that the judgment was taking away the rights of religious believers and leading to a “secular” state, instead of a “neutral” one.

According to the Guardian, he said the courts were downgrading “the right of religious believers to manifest their faith in what has become a deeply unedifying collision of human rights”.

Lord Carey continued: “It heralded a ‘secular’ state rather than a ‘neutral’ one. And while with one hand the ruling seeks to protect the right of religious believers to hold and express their faith, with the other it takes away those same rights.

“It says that the sacking of religious believers in recent cases was not a denial of their rights even though religious belief cannot be divided from its expression in every area of the believer’s life.

“Oddly the judge doesn’t address the argument that rights have to be held in balance and he is apparently indifferent to the fact that religious believers are adversely affected by this judgment and others.”

Mr McFarlane, who said he would not “encourage sin” in gay couples, is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre.

Its director Andrea Minichiello Williams said: “Mr McFarlane simply wanted his religious beliefs to be accommodated by his employer, which in the specific facts of the case was not unreasonable.

“It seems that a religious bar to office has been created, whereby a Christian who wishes to act on their Christian beliefs on marriage will no longer be able to work in a great number of environments.”

The judge’s decision was welcomed by the National Secular Society and gay rights charity Stonewall.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “This is the right outcome for this case. The law must be clear that anti-discrimination laws exist to protect people, not beliefs.

“The right to follow a religious belief is a qualified right and it must not be used to legitimise discrimination against gay people who are legally entitled to protection against bigotry and persecution”.

Stonewall’s director of public affairs Derek Munn said: “Stonewall welcomes the Court of Appeal’s decision. You can’t refuse a service to a person based on their gender, race or disability and you can’t on the basis of their sexual orientation either.

“People delivering public services mustn’t be able to pick and choose who they will serve on the basis of personal prejudice. This ruling confirms that.”