In a frightening foretaste of what Christians in the U.S. can expect, the Church of England in the United Kingdom (U.K.) lost a landmark case involving a law similar to one pushed by gay activists in this nation.
The Right Reverend Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford, England, was brought up before an employment tribunal on charges of sexual orientation discrimination when the bishop refused to hire as a youth worker a non-repentant homosexual man. (See AFA Journal, 6/07.)
John Reaney, the gay man who brought the charges, had previously done church youth work for the Church of England. Reaney charged the bishop under the U.K.’s Sexual Orientation Regulations, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The regulations provide an extremely narrow exemption for churches and clergy, but what was unclear about the law was whether support staff and lay employees like Reaney are also exempt.
That issue, barring an appeal by Church of England officials, was settled in mid-July when the panel answered with an emphatic, “No.” According to the Daily Mail (London), the tribunal said the church unlawfully ran afoul of the non-discrimination laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“This outcome is a triumph for 21st century decency over 19th century prejudice,” said Ben Summerskill, a spokesman for the U.K. gay lobby group Stonewall, which supported Reaney. “The tribunal has rightly made clear that the Church of England cannot discriminate against gay people with impunity. No one, not even a bishop, is exempt from the law.”
Similar law, similar future?
Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (ENDA), or H.R. 2015, states that it would “prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Supporters of the law hope to ease worries that ENDA will in any way inhibit the free exercise of religion by noting that the bill contains a “religious exemption.” However, according to Patrick Vaughn, AFA general counsel, ENDA’s religious exemption is limited in scope. Like the law in the U.K., the U.S. version exempts religious organizations from hiring homosexuals only when the potential employee is applying for a position tied to preaching, teaching or ecclesiastical oversight.
The wording of ENDA exempts only “the employment of individuals whose primary duties consist of teaching or spreading religious doctrine or belief, religious governance, supervision of a religious order, supervision of persons teaching or spreading religious doctrine or belief, or supervision or participation in religious ritual or worship.”
Vaughn, who examined the ENDA bill, said many jobs that Christians would expect to be exempted are not. “At a Christian school, a qualified homosexual who applied to be football coach, English teacher or secretary could not be refused employment on the basis of sexual orientation,” he said. “In a church the position of pastor, worship leader or youth pastor could be exempted, but not the church secretary or the janitor.”
Moreover, Vaughn said, Christian ministries like AFA, which are obviously not churches, would be put under enormous legal pressure by ENDA. “A position at AFA which required an employee to represent the religious views of the ministry would be exempt under the law, but otherwise qualified homosexuals would have to be considered for employment,” he said. “That means secretarial positions, jobs in AFA’s engineering department, data processing and Internet technology would all be forced to open up for homosexuals.”
Just how exempt is religion?
In New Jersey, for example, two lesbians filed a civil rights complaint under the state’s non-discrimination law – which includes sexual orientation – against a Methodist-run campground that refused to host the couple’s same-sex civil union ceremony.
As the setting for that ceremony, lesbians Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster wanted to use part of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a seaside retreat founded by Methodists in 1869.
The facility’s board of trustees denied the request, citing official church policy, which does not recognize same-sex unions. “The facility that they requested is a facility we have used exclusively for our camp meeting mission and worship celebrations since 1869,” Ocean Grove spokesman Scott Hoffman told LifeSiteNews.
While the campground is not officially a “church,” Hoffman said that shouldn’t matter. “We are most definitely a religious organization, our mission statement is to provide a place for spiritual birth, growth and renewal in a Christian seaside setting.”
Ocean Grove officials told LifeSiteNews that the campground was established under – and must adhere to – the rules of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which states that homosexuality is incompatible with the Christian life.
New Jersey’s non-discrimination law also has a religious exemption, but Mark Tooley, a spokesman for the Institute for Religion and Democracy, said the New Jersey legal case would probably clarify what that exemption covered.
“If the lesbian couple were to successfully use New Jersey law to force the Methodist campground to host a same-sex ritual, obviously, that would have very disturbing repercussions in terms of religious liberty,” he told OneNewsNow.com.
Tooley said the lawsuit pointed out the flaw with such non-discrimination laws, “which to many people sound very benign.” He added that “no one wants to say that they are in favor of what’s defined as discrimination, but [these laws] really have much more wide-ranging repercussions than most people have given thought to.”
Ironically, Tooley said, “[this] controversy is yet another example of how pleas for ‘tolerance’ too often morph into new and insidious forms of intolerance.”
So what is it that gays and lesbians are after? It is clearly the ideological surrender of their cultural opponents – especially Christians who believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, not some sort of natural orientation. It is nothing short of ideological imperialism.
This goal seems to explain why Bern-stein and Paster are trying to force a Methodist retreat center into doing something that is contrary to the religious beliefs of its owners. After all, why couldn’t the lesbians simply find another place to hold their commitment ceremony?
Vaughn thinks that ENDA will be used beyond religious organizations like churches, schools or even retreat centers. “The bill would force Christian business owners to hire homosexuals, even if their presence would greatly disrupt the workplace,” he said. “So a transvestite – maybe a man coming to work in a dress, heels and earrings – can’t be disciplined or fired, even by a Christian owner.”
The possibility for mischief, Vaughn added, was limitless. “For example, take a for-profit Christian bookstore. The company could not refuse to hire homosexuals on the basis of sexual orientation,” he said. “But what happens when the bookstore owner hires a homosexual store manager who not only refuses to stock what he considers to be anti-gay books, but then stocks the shelves with gay-friendly books? Under ENDA, the bookstore can’t discipline or fire that manager, either.”
A more painful culture war
Such heavy-handedness only solidifies opposition. If activists and their straight supporters ram through ENDA and the measure becomes law, it will only deepen the chasm in our culture between secular “progressives” and religious traditionalists. It will make for a more painful clash between those demanding that the culture celebrate their lifestyle and those who refuse to do so.
The example of the societal rift over abortion should be a warning to gay activists. When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, abortion supporters probably thought the battle was over. In fact, the court’s ruling would only intensify the conflict.
Any great change in societal values takes a great deal of persuasion, which in turn requires patience. If ENDA supporters are thinking that the law’s passage will be a short cut to their goal, they will be similarly disappointed.