First Person: Venerable David Newman, Archdeacon of Loughborough, on the cross, religious discrimination and the European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights' rulings this week on the four cases of alleged religious discrimination reveal what a lack of imagination our law-bound culture displays.
Issues that might have been resolved with a bit of common sense and compromise have become expensive displays of intolerance. Whose intolerance – the employers or the employees? There's the issue. One person's freedom is another person's bondage.
If I want my neighbourhood to be quiet, I discriminate against those who want to make a noise, and vice versa. If my conscience makes me a vegetarian then I shouldn't work in a butcher's. But if employed in a supermarket, it should be possible for me not to have to work on the meat counter.
Clearly all the cases were not the same. Wearing a cross as a mark of faith should cause no problem in a tolerant society, provided that any health and safety issues were explained and heeded.
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A marriage counsellor who preferred to give sexual advice and therapy to heterosexual couples rather than homosexual couples (and vice versa) could be accommodated in most organisations, unless of course it was contrary to their original job description, just as many professionals specialise in different areas.
A university lecturer who said that he didn't really get on with small children would not get prosecuted for not going to work in an infant school.
They tried to trap Jesus into taking a grand defiant step of conscience which polarised faith and the authorities when they asked Him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, the hated occupying and oppressive power of His day.
He asked to see a coin, pointed to Caesar's head and inscription on it and told them to give to Caesar what was Caesar's and to God what was God's.
In other words, he was saying that it was right and possible to be a good citizen and a conscientious believer; and both individuals and organisations should work to enable both.
The individual conscience may not always be right, but it should always be treated with respect. Similarly we may disagree with the prevailing ethos, but we should choose our battles carefully and always be lovingly principled.
Exchanging religious intolerance for secular intolerance (or vice versa) is not a recipe for a good society.
The Venerable David Newman is Archdeacon of Loughborough.