Gay rights laws are 'a danger to our freedoms': Bishops speak out after Christian couple barred from fostering children because of their views on homosexuality go to court
31st October 2010
Gay rights laws are eroding Christianity and stifling free speech, Church of England bishops warned yesterday.
Senior clerics, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, spoke out ahead of a High Court ‘clash of rights’ hearing over whether Christians are fit to foster or adopt children.
The test case starting today involves a couple who say they have been barred from fostering because they refuse to give up their religious belief that homosexuality is unacceptable.
Supporters hope their legal challenge will set a precedent for the rights of Christians to foster children without compromising their faith.
But senior bishops fear that if the ruling goes against them, it could have devastating consequences for those with religious beliefs.
Either way, they believe the case will determine whether Christians can continue to express their beliefs in this country.
In an open letter, they warned that Labour’s equality laws put homosexual rights over those of others, ‘even though the Office for National Statistics has subsequently shown homosexuals to be just one in 66 of the population’.
The letter is signed by Lord Carey, the Bishop of Winchester Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Chester Rt Rev Peter Forster, and Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester.
They wrote: ‘The High Court is to be asked to rule on whether Christians are “fit people” to adopt or foster children – or whether they will be excluded, regardless of the needs of children, from doing so because of the requirements of homosexual rights.
‘Research clearly establishes that children flourish best in a family with both a mother and father in a committed relationship.
‘The supporters of homosexual rights cannot be allowed to suppress all disagreement or disapproval, and “coerce silence”.’
The couple in the High Court test case, Eunice and Owen Johns, said Derby City Council’s fostering panel rejected them as carers because they would never tell children a homosexual lifestyle was acceptable.
Mrs Johns said: ‘The council said: “Do you know, you would have to tell them that it’s OK to be homosexual?”
‘But I said I couldn’t do that because my Christian beliefs won’t let me. Morally, I couldn’t do that. Spiritually I couldn’t do that.’
The Pentecostal Christian couple from Derby, who have fostered almost 20 children, are not homophobic, according to the Christian Legal Centre, which has taken up their case.
But they are against sex before marriage and do not recognise as marriage civil partnerships between gay couples.
Their beliefs are at odds with Derby City Council’s equality policy, which was drawn up under the terms of the Sexual Orientation Act brought in by Labour.
The Christian Legal Centre, which campaigns for religious freedoms, said in a statement: ‘The case will decide whether the Johns will be able to foster without compromising their beliefs.
‘The implications are huge. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of Christian foster carers and adoptive parents hangs in the balance.
‘It may not be long before local authorities decide that Christians cannot look after some of the most vulnerable children in our society, simply because they disapprove of homosexuality.’
However Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights charity Stonewall, said: ‘Too often in fostering cases nowadays it’s forgotten that it is the interests of a child, and not the prejudices of a parent, that matter.
‘Many Christian parents of gay children will be shocked at Mr and Mrs Johns’s views, which are more redolent of the 19th century than the 21st.’
The case is due to be heard in the High Court sitting at Nottingham Crown Court.