Sunday, 31 October 2010

Foster parenting case reaches High Court

Two Church of England diocesan bishops and two retired Church of England bishops have written to the Telegraph Councils should not discriminate against Christian carers. The full text of the letter is reproduced below the fold.

Jonathan Wynne-Jones had earlier reported the letter in the Telegraph news columns, Christians’ freedom to express beliefs is at risk, warn bishops.

This case has been running for a while. Rachel Harden reported on it for the Church Times in February 2008, see ‘Unsuitable’ foster-parents to appeal.

Update

It may be helpful, as suggested in the Comments below, to provide a link to the earlier McFarlane case in which Lord Carey intervened. The full text of the main judgement was linked from here.

The full text of Lord Carey’s own witness statement was published by Ruth Gledhill on her blog, but is no longer available; however comment on it from the Church Times is still available here. Update Now available in .doc format here.

31 Oct 2010

SIR – On Monday 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.

The case involves Derby City Council and Eunice and Owen Johns, both highly experienced foster carers, but whose traditional Christian views have left them penalised under legislation enacted by the former government in the name of equality.

This “equality”, however, privileges 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.

In January 2007, the Johnses applied to Derby City Council to be respite carers for a single child aged five to 10 years old. However, in August 2007, their orthodox Christian views on the practice of homosexuality and their commitment to attending church with their children came to the notice of a social worker.

As a result, they were withdrawn from the process and deemed “unsuitable” to foster through the council.

The Johnses believe that the desperate shortage of foster carers, and the need for people like them to offer short-term respite care for parents in need of a rest, mean that denying Christians the opportunity to be carers will deeply affect children’s welfare.

The Johnses are a loving Christian couple, who have in the past, and would in the future, give a stable home to a vulnerable child.

Research clearly establishes that children flourish best in a family with both a mother and father in a committed relationship.

A commitment to respecting conscience is the essence of civil liberty. The supporters of homosexual rights cannot be allowed to suppress all disagreement or disapproval and “coerce silence”.

There is a “clash of rights”, which the court must settle. If the court believes that those with traditional Christian views on homosexuality can be discriminated against, the state has taken a position on a moral question, namely that such religious belief is problematic.

However, despite the Sexual Orientation Regulations and the Equality Act, the courts are still able to establish jurisprudence.

We trust and pray that common sense and justice will be done.

Lord Carey of Clifton Former Archbishop of Canterbury
Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt Bishop of Winchester
Rt Revd Peter Forster Bishop of Chester
Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali Former Bishop of Rochester

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 12:41pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

Without knowing anything about their suitability this seems to be a case of the prospective foster parents being used for political purposes...

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 1:38pm GMT

"On Monday the High Court is to be asked to rule on whether Christians are “fit people” to adopt or foster children"

Actually, that's not the case. The Court is being asked whether two particular Christians are 'fit people'. FWIW I'm personally rather dubious about the Council's reported attitude on this issue - especially since the application was for respite fostering - but it does annoy me when four educated men who ought to know better make use of this silly sort of hyperbole.

Posted by: Justin Brett on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 3:12pm GMT

Justin
I have no advance knowledge of how the case will be argued, but I suspect the issue is not so much to do with the individuals' fitness, or otherwise, but more to do with the Council's processes for selection of foster parents, and whether these can be justified to the court as fair and reasonable in the general case, and then whether or not they were fairly and reasonably applied to the case in question.
But I entirely agree with your first point that this is not about "Christians" in general, but only about a small subset.
And I agree with your last point :-)

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 4:00pm GMT

I'm afraid the letter is true to form. Lord Carey's language about "Christians" is exactly the same as he used in McFarlane v. Relate. In that case, the facts were so stacked against McFarlane - e.g, he was in plain breach of his contract of employment - that a lawyer with his client's interests at heart should have told him that he had no chance of winning and his appeals were a waste of money. That was the case in which Laws LJ gave Lord Carey such a roasting that a lesser man would have given up, but he is back. (Simon - you must have reported McFarlane, would you like to readvertise the link?).

Of course, we don't yet know the facts and how they will be argued this time. The claimants may have a better case than McFarlane did.

PS, as to "Research clearly establishes...", (Carey et al letter para. 8), that is not the finding of fact by the trial court in "Perry v. Schwarzenegger" .

Posted by: Iain McLean on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 4:41pm GMT

Evidently the word "Christian" is used in this letter to refer only to those who hold the views of Lord Carey et co. regarding LGBT persons. I read this as only those Christians who hold negative views toward gay and lesbian persons, and take children to church where they will be taught that LGBT persons are disordered, at the least, and an abomination at the worst, are Christians. Those of us who do not agree with them must, then, be non-Christians. OCICBW... but then, I'm a woman, a priest, in TEC, and supportive of LGBT lives, loves, ministries, and marriages, so, not, then a Christian apparently.

Posted by: Lois Keen on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 7:17pm GMT

'Research clearly establishes that children flourish best in a family with both a mother and father in a committed relationship'.

Research can show you whatever you want it to show. Didn't I read somewhere recently that some research in the USA showed that children with parents of the same sex did better than those in more conventional familes?

This isn't a good case to be arguing either way though. There is something as unappealing about PC social workers as there is about reactionary bishops using and interfering in the law when ever they can.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 7:34pm GMT

a greater man would have given up on such a tawdry project.

Nothing whatsoever, to do with children, fostering or Christianity.

Shameful.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 8:26pm GMT

As usual, Nazir-Ali, Carey and Scott-Joynt are determined to create the UK version of the Tea Party by stoking fear based on dishonest caricatures.

But I was particularly struck by their assertion that homosexuals are only one in 66 of the population.

Now, first off, I think that this figure (like most everything that emerges from the lips and pens of these hateful men) is pure drivel.

The really interesting thing, though, is to consider why such a number might be relevant in the first place. Really, the only possible point in raising this dubious statistic is to argue implicitly that the rights of homosexuals don't matter because there aren't enough homosexuals for it to matter.

You see, minorities don't have rights if they are small minorities - only if they are large minorities. The logical conclusion is that rights properly only accrue to majorities.

These four are a disgrace to the gospel.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 9:12pm GMT

It's cases like these---wherein people DEMAND the right to *impose discriminatory views on vulnerable children*---which (in the public mind) is turning the phrase "Christian carers" into an OXYMORON.

Lord have mercy!

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 9:14pm GMT

The impeccable ultra-conservative management of the true-believing bishops of Winchester and Chester does not seem to have resulted in their dioceses being spared the general relentless decline in attendance observable right across the C of E, according to the latest statistics on the thread below http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/statistics/churchstats2008/statisticsawa.htm
which perhaps indicates that their episcopal attentions would have been better devoted to attracting people, rather than wasting their energies putting even more people off the Church because those running it are perceived as backward-looking old men confined within the moral compass of the 1950s.

Likewise, the archiepiscopal tenure of My Lord Carey began, if I recall correctly, with a great deal of vaunting from him about the new evangelisation of Britain which we were about to experience under his dynamic leadership, and ended up a tale of continuing and apparently terminal decline.

I think the failed churchleaders of yesterday would be better seeking the decent cover of a quiet retirement than endlessly interfering in a society they clearly do not understand, and in which their clumsy meddling only further harms the cause of Christ. One only needs to read "Oranges are not the Only Fruit" to see what happens when the policy they approve of is put into action in real people's lives.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 10:08pm GMT

Richard Ashby wrote "This isn't a good case to be arguing either way though. There is something as unappealing about PC social workers as there is about reactionary bishops using and interfering in the law when ever they can."

I am sorry Richard I can't agree with you. What is unappealing about the social workers actions? To me there is something laudable about social workers being prepared to argue in court that having a positive view of homosexuality is a mandatory requirement for fostering. In my experience the phrase "PC" (politically correct) is a stick used to beat councils by reactionary newspapers such as the Daily Mail. It is a phrase like "loony left" or "health and safety gone mad". I personally think that political correctness - correctly applied - is a good thing. And it seems to be correctly applied here.

Ona different point - you can't have it both ways in employment law. If the church wants to insist that it should have the right to discriminate, and only employ as priests or youth workers those people who agree with its beliefs and dogmas, why can't the council equally insist that it will only employ as foster carers people who agree to comply with the council's policies on homosexuality.

Simon


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 10:12pm GMT

This would seem to be the key extract from the newspaper reports.

"“They then asked about what we would do if the children asked about homosexuality, or were even being bullied about it.”

Mrs Johns said that she would tell them that, as Christians, she and her husband believed homosexuality was wrong."

Seems open and shut to me.

The council has a legal obligation to comply with anti-discrimination legislation. I am not a lawyer, but I wonder if it would actually be legal for the council to actively employ as a foster worker somebody who it knew had such discriminatory views, and who had stated their intention to act on them.

Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Sunday, 31 October 2010 at 10:21pm GMT

Simon. I agree that one has to be careful not to descend to the level of the Daily Mail. Neither do I want to defend the couple's stance on Christianity and homosexuality which, as you know, I do not and cannot share and indeed argue publicly and privately against. And of course the fact that the case has been taken up by the Christian Legal Centre and supported by the usual suspects make the whole thing suspicious. One might suspect that it is a set up. Obviously this group and the bishops are looking for cases with which to challenge the Equalities legislation and unfortunately some people are allowing themselves to be used for this purpose. But I do still think that this is a difficult case. Its logical extension is to quiz every actual or prospective parent about their views on a whole range of topics and to prevent those who don't conform from having children, or removing those they have. That sounds like a Brave New World to me.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 1 November 2010 at 8:28am GMT

These 4 Bishops - 2 of them retired - of the Church of England are, by their actions here, declaring that Christians have a right to discriminate against homosexuals. This is not right. nor is it in accordance with a Lambeth statement that homosexuals should be accepted in the Church - as they are in the modern world.
This is a sad day for the Church of England.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 1 November 2010 at 9:11am GMT

Richard
"Its logical extension is to quiz every actual or prospective parent about their views on a whole range of topics and to prevent those who don't conform from having children, or removing those they have. That sounds like a Brave New World to me."

But this isn't about an abstract philosophical issue, this is about ensuring that someone is a suitable carer for any possible child. There is every possibility that one of the children placed in this couple's care is homosexual and the State has a duty to ensure that children in its care are not placed with people who will teach that child to hate itself.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 1 November 2010 at 9:20am GMT

The thing is , though, that fostering means dealing with a range of social issues, and being able to respond in a supportive way. If their beliefs prevent them from doing this because they cannot suspend their own opinions from the necessary role of a foster parent, then they are not suitable for the role

Posted by: Merseymike on Monday, 1 November 2010 at 10:49am GMT

No Richard Ashby the state intervenes in different ways in the fostering of children under the state, and reproduction which as many of know, is a biological process (can follow certain kinds intercourse).

Are you arguing for a process of vetting for biological parents ? Or for prospective candidates for sexual intercourse ? I think we should know. :)

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 1 November 2010 at 1:19pm GMT

It was an inspired idea for these (mainly) retired or retiring bishops to target a black couple for their sympathy.

I expect all 4 have been active in supporting prospective and actual foster parents for years and years ?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 1 November 2010 at 5:17pm GMT

"There is every possibility that one of the children placed in this couple's care is homosexual and the State has a duty to ensure that children in its care are not placed with people who will teach that child to hate itself."

EXACTLY, Erika. (Though I suppose the bishops think that foster children CANNOT be among the "1 in 66". Feh!)

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 1 November 2010 at 8:46pm GMT

Given the number of suicides, attempted suicides and sheer misery among LGBT children and youth, Mrs Johns' own account of how she would respond if a child in her care was being subjected to homophobic bullying is alarming. Adults can believe what they choose, but children have a right to be protected.

Posted by: Savi H on Monday, 1 November 2010 at 10:28pm GMT

Oh dear, I seem to have got myself into the position of defending something I can't defend. At the moment there is a court case in the USA in which someone is suing Fred Phelps of 'God hates fags' fame who is being supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (?) on the grounds of Phelps' right to freedom of speech. Where does one stand on that I wonder? Being a liberal is sometimes quite difficult.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 1 November 2010 at 11:03pm GMT

Richard:

IMO, in the same way that freedom of speech does not extend to falsely crying "fire!" in a crowded theater, it does not extend to intruding on a private ceremony such as a funeral.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 2 November 2010 at 10:20am GMT

Richard
In the US there is unlimited freedom of expression regardless of consequences, but that is not so in English law, where inciting hatred and violence is rightly a legal offence that overrides freedom of speech.

It would not be very liberal to accept the actual harm done to a person in order to protect the free speech of someone who will not have to live with the consequences of his speech.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 2 November 2010 at 11:01am GMT

I think it's tough to generalise from a specific incident, and that's the problem - the law will generalise.

I would hope that even in the case of conservative CHristian parents, if they find out that their child is gay, their first response is not going to be 'We think homosexuality is wrong' (that statement is itself theologically indefensible even from a conservative Christian viewpoint). If that is their first response, then even I (traditional as I am) think there's something wrong there.

But... where do you draw the line? Social workers can already remove children from families if they suspect there is abuse going on. Clearly, many people who comment here would be happy to see this extended to removing gay children from conservative homes. But what if the State decides it's not in kids' best interests to be raised in pacifist homes?

I'm genuinely asking 'How do you draw the line'? It worries me.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 2 November 2010 at 10:41pm GMT

Tim
"I'm genuinely asking 'How do you draw the line'? It worries me."

In this case it's really quite simply a question of whether people can abide by the laws of the land which state very clearly that lgbt people are not to be discriminated against. For the State to place children it is legally responsible for with people who do not consider gay people to be their moral equal is negligence. Imagine if one of the gay young people in the States who recently committed suicide had been knowingly placed with an anti-gay family by a State funded adoption agency.
Apart from the moral dimension, it is not a legal situation the State can afford to get itself into.

It is really quite simple. When a democratically arrived at law determines that a characteristic is not harmful, that is it perfectly legal and the bearer of this characteristic is worthy of the same nurturing and protection as any other person, then no private person acting in the public sphere (which adoption is), can go against it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 3 November 2010 at 8:25am GMT

Tim

Or indeed the state decides that it is no longer desirable for children to be raised in a household that has any active faith. I read that studies in children do show that they have a natural inclination that someone or something created them. Indoctrination by aetheist parents may be deemed good parenting, but inculcating a belief in God from whom ones looks to for moral guidance is considered most irrational.

Posted by: David WIlson on Wednesday, 3 November 2010 at 12:44pm GMT

'Clearly, many people who comment here would be happy to see this extended to removing gay children from conservative homes.'

NO Tim ! The opposite of what you said !

I would not be 'happy' to see the moving of 'gay children' (and young people) into anti-gay homes.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 3 November 2010 at 5:02pm GMT

Fortunately, we do not have to 'draw the line'. The state does that, based upon legislation, common law, case law and the relevant regulations in force, from the relevant government departments.

The various professionals each exercising their own role appropriately.

Still far from easy, at times. Calling for the wisdom of Solomon, rather that that of Carey,Scott-Joynt et al.


Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 3 November 2010 at 5:08pm GMT

'Fortunately, we do not have to 'draw the line'. The state does that'.

And fortunately for most people commenting here, the state is presently drawing the line right where they would like it to be drawn. Pray that this will always be the case.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Thursday, 4 November 2010 at 12:57am GMT

David
"Or indeed the state decides that it is no longer desirable for children to be raised in a household that has any active faith."

This has been mentioned as one possible reason that these people are considered unsuitable.
I would like to hear more about that aspect.

If it were true, it would be illegal and should indeed be challenged, as the State protects the right to practice a religion and cannot therefore discriminate against people who do so.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 4 November 2010 at 8:16am GMT

Tim
"And fortunately for most people commenting here, the state is presently drawing the line right where they would like it to be drawn. Pray that this will always be the case."

In a democratic society that is quite irrelevant. The State draws many lines I'd rather it didn't but unless you suggest civil disobedience I can't see a way round obeying the rules that a democratically elected Government has made.
I can, of course, lobby to change the rules, that's a different issue.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 4 November 2010 at 10:08am GMT

'Fortunately, we do not have to 'draw the line'. The state does that'.

And fortunately for most people commenting here, the state is presently drawing the line right where they would like it to be drawn. Pray that this will always be the case.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Thursday, 4 November

It was not the case for centuries including much the C20th.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Thursday, 4 November 2010 at 7:42pm GMT
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