Who Gets to Bully Whom?

People do keep trampling on the rights of religious believers, don’t they. Have you noticed that? Exhibiting paintings that some Hindus don’t like, putting on plays that some Sikhs don’t like, drawing cartoons that some Muslims don’t like, refusing to give arbitrary unequal treatment to people that some Christians would prefer to see getting arbitrary unequal treatment – there’s just no end to it. So naturally the religious believers are speaking up. Wouldn’t you?

Consider for instance these UK proposals to ‘protect gays and lesbians from being denied “goods, facilities and services” because of their sexual orientation.’

Lord Mackay of Clashfern and the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, said in a statement issued by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship that the proposals could also undermine people’s rights to exercise their religious beliefs…Lord Mackay said: “For people of religious faith who believe that the practice of homosexuality is wrong, these proposals seem to me to carry a serious threat to their freedom in their voluntary and charitable work and in relation to earning their livelihood in a number of occupations.”

Yes – true. Laws and regulations are like that. They carry of their nature serious threats to freedom. That’s rather the point of them. If they weren’t meant to stop people doing things or to make them do things, they wouldn’t be laws and regulations, they would be something else, like polite advice, or gentle urging, or poetic rumination. The freedom of murderers is badly dented by laws against murder. Is this news to Lord Mackay?

Senior Muslims were also critical. Dr Majid Katme, the spokesman for the Islamic Medical Association, argued that the proposals demonstrated that the Government was prepared to discriminate against faith communities in order to promote “equality”. “The right to hold deep faith convictions that affect the way people think and behave in every aspect of life is sacrificed in these regulations,” he said.

The scare-quotes on ‘equality’ are interesting. Did Dr Katme make the little finger-hooks in the air when he was talking to the Telegraph, or what? How did the Telegraph know to put the scare-quotes on? Whatever. However that happened, it’s fascinating to see people catching on. Ohhhhhh – guess what, there’s a big fat tension in all this cuddly droning about ‘communities’ (I put those scare quotes on myself) and ‘faith communities’ and ‘rights’ and ‘the right to hold deep faith convictions’ on the one hand, and equality and freedom on the other. Guess what, the two don’t always mingle smoothly; guess what, you can’t always have both; guess what, your freedom to hold deep faith convictions that women should be imprisoned and subordinated and silenced conflicts rather sharply with my freedom to be a person like other people. We got a problem here, dude. Same with the gay stuff. Your right to hold deep faith convictions that gay people are wrong and bad and sinful conflicts rather sharply with gay people’s freedom and equality. Unless of course you can bring yourself simply to have the deep faith convictions without trying to enforce them or act on them in any way – but apparently you can’t, or you wouldn’t be complaining about these regulations. You’re not actually talking merely about deep faith convictions, you’re talking about putting them into practice. You’re trying to defend your desire to apply special unequal rules to gay people by calling that unpleasant desire ‘deep faith convictions’ and associating the whole package with freedom and rights. You’re complaining that your right and freedom to treat people unequally is under threat, and you’re dressing it up with talk of deep faith convictions and faith communities and people of religious faith. It’s a low trick. You guys need less in the way of deep faith convictions and a lot more in the way of rational thought about morality.

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