CI success over SORs
A High Court judge in Belfast has struck down homosexual harassment laws that threatened the religious liberties of Christians in Northern Ireland. The judge also made further rulings which have implications for Christians throughout the UK. The case was brought to the High Court by the Christian Institute (CI) and some evangelical church denominations in Northern Ireland.
In deleting the harassment laws from the sexual orientation regulations (SORs) Mr Justice Weatherup said he was concerned that the laws went much further than discrimination. He referred to the free speech implications of these types of laws.
The harassment laws were so drafted that a homosexual only has to show that he or she feels offended – while receiving goods, facilities or services – to launch a legal action for harassment.
Christian groups were worried that these laws could be used against Christians who expressed their religious beliefs that homosexual practice was morally wrong.
The quashing of these harassment laws will also be helpful to Christian groups arguing against this kind of legislation in the forthcoming Single Equality Bill.
The judge also ruled that the SORs should not apply to the school curriculum. This will be a crushing disappointment to those gay campaigners who have quoted SORs in support of using homosexual books in primary schools.
The ruling, given on 11 September, also narrows the scope of the regulations as they affect faith-based groups receiving public funding. The judge ruled that only the activity for which the group receives public funding, and not every activity of the group, is affected.
Government lawyers had argued that religious liberty could not be affected by the regulations. However, Mr Justice Weatherup said he was convinced there would be cases where people’s religious liberty is affected by the SORs. He said that the county courts would have to resolve those matters on a case-by-case basis; and do so by referring to principles arising from the Brockie case.
That case involved a Christian printer in Canada who was being sued by a gay rights group. The judgement given was that a Christian printer should not be forced to print material which goes against his core religious beliefs; but also that a Christian printer should not be able to refuse to print other material, such as a letterhead, just because the client is homosexual.
Overall, what does this High Court ruling mean?
It means Christians are much safer than they were before the CI’s legal action. The SORs in Northern Ireland have been significantly narrowed in their scope and their most dangerous section – on harassment – has been removed altogether.