By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, JUNE 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Christians are finding it increasingly difficult to practice their faith in the public sphere, as a number of recent cases demonstrate.
In New Mexico the Court of Appeals ruled that the refusal by a photo studio to photograph a same-sex couple is a breach of the state’s Human Rights Act, the Albuquerque Journal reported, June 5.
In 2006 Vanessa Willock asked Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography if she would take pictures of a “same-gender ceremony.” She was told the studio only handled “traditional weddings.”
The studio also lost previous rulings by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission in 2008 and by District Judge Alan Malott in 2009.
The studio argued that their refusal to photograph a same-sex ceremony was not discrimination, but was motivated by the religious and moral beliefs of the owners.
The courts, however, ruled that as a business that provides services to the public it cannot refuse to serve on the basis of not only race, religion, color, and nationality, but also sex or sexual orientation, or gender identity.
The issue of Christians and same-sex unions is also a hot topic in England, as the government considers whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage. Christians are facing difficulties in defending their view, as the decidedly non-religious Economist magazine pointed out in its June 2 print edition.
In March, it explained, a lobby group, Christian Concern, booked rooms for its conference at the Law Society. Their booking was cancelled on May 11 due to their position on same-sex marriage. They then booked at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Center, and once more, it was later cancelled as: “The event would conflict with our policy on diversity.”
Most Christian churches, Jews and almost all Muslims do believe that sex belongs inside heterosexual marriage only, the Economist pointed out. “Does diversity cover that?,” it asked.
Catholic schools in Wales ran into trouble when they were informed they could be breaking the law by inviting their students to sign a petition protesting the government’s proposal to legalize same-sex marriage, the Telegraph newspaper reported May 9.
Leighton Andrews, the Welsh Assembly Government minister for education and skill, said that the call to oppose a change in the law could constitute a “political” act, which is prohibited by the 1996 Education Act.
He not only directed schools in Wales to give pupils a “balanced” view on the same-sex marriage issue but he also ordered that they must tell pupils about his intervention.
“Our position remains that this is a religious view not a political view,” Maeve McCormack, policy manger for the Catholic Education Service, told the Telegraph.
Free speech on the issue of homosexuality also suffered a blow when in England Adrian Smith lost his appeal against a 2011 decision by his employer to demote him due to comments he posted on his Facebook page.
In his own time he posted his criticism about the government’s plans to allow same-sex marriages in churches. The posting, visible only to his friends on Facebook, led the Trafford Housing Trust to demote him from his £35,000 a year managerial post to a more junior £21,000 position, the Telegraph newspaper reported, last October 24.
Subsequently, on March 21, the Christian Institute reported that District Judge Charles Khan, at Manchester County Court, ruled that Smith could not use human rights arguments in his legal case against his employer.
He plans to continue his case, which could be heard sometime in the coming months, according to the Christian Institute.
The decision came shortly after another appeal loss, by the Christian owners of a Cornish hotel who sought to reverse a 2011 decision regarding their policy of restricting double rooms to married couples.
Peter and Hazelmary Bull took their case to the Court of Appeal, following the court order to pay damages in January 2011 to civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall, but they lost the case, the BBC reported February 10.
Later, on March 12, the BBC reported that the couple was considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.
“In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by State bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong,” warned Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, recently.
His warning was contained in a submission to the European Court of Human Rights regarding a case to be heard in September, the Telegraph newspaper reported April 13.
The hearing encompasses a number of cases, including a counselor sacked for saying that he was not be comfortable in giving sex therapy to homosexual couples, and a Christian registrar, who did not want to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.
Courts in Britain, Lord Carey said, have “consistently applied equality law to discriminate against Christians.” A situation certainly not limited to Britain and one that is rapidly spreading.