A shabby pretext

Inayat Bunglawala is pondering (in a rather inconclusive and unproductive way, which I suppose in his case is probably just as well) the tensions between religious freedom and other kinds of freedom, religious rights and other kinds of rights. One thing he mentions needs more second-guessing than it usually gets.

Professor Roger Trigg kicked off last night’s discussion by pointing out that Article 9 of the European convention on human rights guarantees that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to … manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” However, Professor Trigg argued that, in reality, a number of recent cases showed that this religious freedom was being trumped by other human rights.

He cited the case of a registrar in the London borough of Islington who had objections to conducting civil partnership ceremonies. The registrar happened to be a Christian and “could not reconcile her faith with taking an active part in enabling same sex unions to be formed”. This was a case where the freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs in practice appeared to come into direct conflict with the right not to be discriminated against due to one’s sexual orientation.

Here’s what I think needs closer examination: in what sense is it really part of the registrar’s religious beliefs that gay people shouldn’t get married?

Is that something Jesus is quoted as saying? Is it a central Christian belief? Is it a religious belief at all?

Not that I know of. As far as I know, it’s just a traditional entrenched customary belief – a “Yuk” belief, to borrow from Leon Kass and Jonathan Haidt. It doesn’t really have any strictly religious content. Yet it gets called a religious belief. Why? Partly to make it seem more respectable, and partly precisely to take advantage of the rights that Bunglawala mentions. A mere stupid bit of bigoted dislike doesn’t deserve or get the dignity of a right, but if you say it’s a religious belief – oh well that’s different. Only it isn’t. But a lot of people say it is. It’s mostly a con, and should be treated as such.

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