Witch hunts are back, at least on the issue of homosexuality.
On Thursday, Brendan Eich, co-founder of Mozilla, the organization that runs the Firefox browser, was forced to step down from his newly appointed role as chief executive. His crime: some years ago he gave $1,000 to support Proposition 8 in California, which sought to keep the state from recognizing same-sex marriage.
A few days before, British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the legalization of same-sex marriage as something very important to him and as sending a powerful message about equality, the Guardian newspaper reported, Mar. 29.
Scotland has also passed a law allowing same-sex marriage, which will come into effect later this year.
The new law has raised serious concerns about religious liberty. People such as chauffeurs, photographers and caterers will be acting illegally if because of conscience objections they refuse services to same-sex couples getting married.
According to guidance rules formulated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, businesses and individuals could face fines of up to thousands of pounds if they breach equality laws, the London Telegraph reported, Mar. 30.
The article also warned that chaplains working in prisons or hospitals could be refused a job on the grounds of their views about same-sex marriage.
The following day the Telegraph reported that a Christian preacher was awarded 13,000 pounds in compensation after he was unjustly arrested and held in jail for 19 hours because of his views on homosexuality.
In 2011 John Craven was preaching on the streets of Manchester when he quoted the Bible about homosexuality. He was arrested by a policeman and for almost 15 hours denied food, water, or medication for his arthritis.
“Freedom of expression is a basic human right,” commented Colin Hart, the director of the Christian Institute, which defended Craven.
Further pressure from the Equality and Human Rights Commission came as they described as mistaken a decision to allow a Scottish Catholic adoption agency to place adopted children only with parents who are Catholics.
The Scottish Charities Appeal Panel allowed St Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society to continue this practice. This overturns a previous contrary decision by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, the London Times newspaper reported, Apr. 1.
The report noted this leaves St Margaret’s as the only Catholic adoption agency in Britain. Due to conflicts over the equality laws and same-sex parents nine agencies have been obliged to separate from the Catholic Church and another three have ceased to operate.
The United States is also the scene of conflicts over religious liberty and homosexuality. Last Tuesday the state of Mississippi passed a religious freedom bill allowing residents to sue over laws that place a substantial burden on their religious practices, the Washington Post reported Apr. 1.
“This is a victory for the First Amendment and the right to live and work according to one’s conscience,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in relation to the Mississippi law.
The state of Arizona approved a similar bill earlier this year, but following protests Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the legislation. The law provided the possibility for people to use their religious beliefs as a defence against claims of discrimination.
The Center for Arizona Policy commented the law was needed to protect people against activist courts. “We see a growing hostility toward religion,” said Josh Kredit, legal counsel for the group,” reported the Associated Press, Feb. 26.
The conflicts over such laws in several states reflect a growing tendency in public opinion to consider any non-acceptance of homosexual conduct or same-sex marriage as being simple intolerance or unfair discrimination.
A case in point was that of Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, a Dominican nun based in Nashville, Tennessee, who spoke to students of Charlotte Catholic High School, in North Carolina, on March 21.
Among other things she spoke about homosexuality and various issues related to sexual morality. Sister Dominic Laurel has a doctorate in theology and regularly lectures about the theology of the body.
A number of students and their parents protested at her remarks and drew up a petition signed by more than 2,000 people, the Charlotte Observer reported, Mar. 27.
One of the consequences is that she has cancelled a planned talk scheduled to be given in May to a youth conference in the Diocese of Charlotte, the local newspaper reported Apr. 1.
“Is it possible to have a calm and respectful debate about same-sex marriage?,” asked David Quinn in the Irish Independent on Jan. 31.
He answered in the negative, referring to the barrage of very hostile comments to the Iona Institute, of which he is the head, on this topic.
“The enormous irony, of course, is that the internet trolls who accuse us of spreading ‘hate’ are themselves full of hate,” Quinn commented.
The editor of Spiked Online, Brendan O’Neill, no apologist for the Catholic Church, expressed similar views in his March 31 commentary on same-sex marriage.
What he termed the extraordinary cultural pressure on people to endorse same-sex marriage: “has taken the form of demonizing dissent, where those who criticise gay marriage are instantly written off as homophobes and bigots.”
He concluded by speaking of: “the emergence of new forms of intolerance that demand nothing less than moral obedience and mandatory celebration from everyone – or else.”
Something that Eich and many others have experienced in first person.