It is thought that part 5 is the part of the bill which the Vatican most vehemently opposes as they place restrictions on employers and public bodies from discriminating against applicants on the basis of race, faith, sex, age or disability. The Pope is worried that Catholic Churches will be forced to appoint staff (such as cleaners) who are homosexual or even may be forced to accept gay clergy. Part 3 also prevents the harassing or victimisation of a person for any of the categories outlined, which Catholics argue may stop them being able to preach that homosexuality is wrong.
Now, personally having read the details of the bill, I think that it is on the mark. Due and sensible exceptions are made to allow exceptions to the law for issues related to national security, educational appointments and charitable bequests and donations in part 14. The Bill makes no specific mention to religious institutions let alone the Catholic Church.
What does worry me, and at the risk of sounding unpopular on this blog, is that the furore generated by the media regarding this bill (its placement of the Pope vs the British Government) is the latest attempt at generating anti-Christian feeling inherrent within some parts of the public domain. I myself am absolutely not a Catholic, nor am I particularly religious. I briefly flirted with atheism, but have since come round to realise that in my eyes, thing are far from certain. If push came to shove, I would probably call myself a very lapsed Christian, bordering on agnostic. I firmly believe in the separation of Church and State. I am a keen advocate of the disestablishment of the Church of England, the removal of Bishops and all clergy from the House of Lords as well as, naturally, being inclined towards harmony and toleration among and between the very diverse elements within British society. I also agreed with Nick Clegg when he said that publicly funded state schools should not be allowed to preach messages which are contrary to maintenance of public order and good. He was targetting Catholic schools preaching that homosexuality is wrong in particular. Yet I remain worried about the extent to which the established authorities, and many people advocate policies which are secular to the point of anti-religion. The case of the British Airways worker who was dismissed for wearing a cross, the renaming of Christmas to Winterval by certain local authorities are two other examples where secularism has, in my view, gone too far. As much as I admire the intellectual brilliance of Richard Dawkins, I find his bleeting about loud and forceful Christian preachers extremely hypocritical, considering the fact that he has paid for buses to advertise “There is no God” on their advertising boards. Militant atheism is, to me, as bad as militant fundamentalist preaching. How can attempting to force people to not believe something be considered any better than attempting to force people to believe something?
Unlike the United States, the overwhelming majority of Christians (of all denominations) are moderate, sensible and do not cause the establishment any trouble. If one will draw a comparison with Islam. Again the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, moderate and seek only to live a peaceful life. Yet it seems that because terrorist attacks have been seemingly, however falsely, made in the name of Islam people in the public arena seem to bounce between outright hostility to Islam and being scared of it. I am thus concerned that Christians are considered an easy target for people who criticise religion, because there is not the shame cloud of fear over Christians as currently permeates around Islam, it seems to me that many people including Mr Dawkins, treat Christianity as something that can be routinely and constantly castigated, and the religion’s followers can be looked down upon with scorn and disregard because they do not make a fuss. That in my eyes is discriminating people by their faith, because you are treating them differently.
Of course religions should be open to scrutiny. We would not be where we are now if people did not question what was taught to them by the clerics. Religious people should be able to accept thorough and detailed questioning of their faith. And people should be allowed to believe what they like, including in there being no God, or a giant turtle carrying elephants carrying disc shaped world if they like. But it should also be seen by atheists and others who I believe take secularism too far, that in the same way one cannot be forced to believe in God, someone should not be forced to NOT believe in it either. Sometimes hearing people very loudly and very violently shouting about the fact that there is no God, can be just as uncomfortable as hearing someone preaching that there is a deity. In conclusion, let us all believe what we like to believe and not worry about other people. To me, that is how British people, truly are.