Monday, 28 February 2011
Court upholds ban on foster couple
Updated twice Monday evening
The BBC reports Court backs decision to bar Christian foster couple.
The full text of the judgment can be found here. The language used by the judges is really quite extraordinarily strong.
It has seriously upset Christian Concern whose article is over here. Another version of this appears as a Christian Legal Centre press release.
Andrew Brown has published an analysis, at The law of England is not Christian.
The Christian Institute and similar bodies have mounted a series of court cases over the alleged persecution of Christians in the last five years. Almost all have been based around the claim that Christians are entitled to discriminate against gay people. Each one has ended in defeat. From the cross worn by Nadia Eweida to the attempts to allow religious exemption to the registrants of civil marriage, or the owners of B&Bs, the cases have been pitched as matters of high principle, and the judges have responded with increasing asperity. None, I think, has been so brutal as Lord Justice Munby in his judgment on the case of Owen and Eunice Johns, a couple of Sheffield pentecostalists who were turned down as foster carers because they would not accept homosexuality…
…[T]hey wrote to the council “We take these statements and others to mean that it is either your policy, or your understanding of the law, that Christians and other faith groups who hold the view that any sexual union outside a marriage between a man and a woman is morally reprehensible are persons who are unfit to foster. In short you seem to be suggesting that Christians (such as us) can only adopt if we compromise our beliefs regarding sexual ethics”.
This is the view that Lord Justice Munby has described as a “travesty of reality”.
He quotes some substantial excerpts from the judgment, and then concludes:
Obviously, these judgments will have a considerable effect on evangelical protestantism in this country, which has always taken the view that we are, or should be, a Christian nation. But I think the greatest effect will not be on pentecostalists like the Johnses. They can adjust quite easily to the idea that they live under a heathen or godless regime. It is the old-fashioned evangelical wing of the Church of England which will be most upset and confused by these clear statements of principle.
Others have issued statements:
Stonewall Stonewall welcomes ‘landmark’ fostering decision
British Humanist Association High court upholds decision to bar anti-gay Christian couple from fostering: BHA comments
Gavin Drake has also written an analysis, see Misplaced outrage over High Court “ban” on Christian foster parents which makes some good points. One thing he says is this:
The Christian Legal Centre have issued a press release about the case which they open: “In a landmark judgment, which will have a serious impact on the future of fostering and adoption in the UK, the High Court has suggested that Christians with traditional views on sexual ethics are unsuitable as foster carers, and that homosexual ‘rights’ trump freedom of conscience in the UK.”
This is nothing less than a lie and I am appalled that a Christian group should seek to misrepresent the truth in such a way. I’d go so far as to suggest that the Christian Legal Centre’s press release may amount to a contempt of court.
Lawyer Neil Addison has commented at Religion Law blog see Johns v Derby Council - Christian Foster Carers Case and he concludes:
All in all this does appear to be a case that should not have been brought and which, from the point of view of orthodox Christians has done more harm than good.
Perhaps in fulfillment of Andrew Brown’s last sentence (see above) Chris Sugden has weighed in at Anglican Mainstream with High Court ruling on Foster-Care parents.
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on
Monday, 28 February 2011 at 4:00pm GMT
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Christian Concern may well be seriously upset but that seems to have seriously clouded its response to the judgement. Just to begin with it is hardly 'Christians' who are affected by the ruling, just the few who take a particular view. And secondly, where in the judgement is the words 'promote the practise of homosexuality' used? I don't remember seeing it yet that is what they say the couple were being asked to do. This sort of deliberate posturing hardly does their case any good at all.
Interesting to see that Lord Carey gets it in the neck again. But who is Mr Diamond and who paid him?
What made me laugh out loud about the case is that it is a black couple petitioning for the right to discriminate. Bless unchallenged minds such as theirs that will never be disturbed by the sound of a penny dropping or a pencil etching a connecting line between two dots.
This sounds like a tricky one.
You have a right to conscience...
...but you don't have the right to emotionally (or worse) abuse a FOSTER child, for heaven's sake!
From far across the Pond, I'll trust the Court's decision.
If these people are disqualified by manifesting their beliefs in sexual ethics, why stop there? All it takes is a bit of bullying and a teacher overhears little Johnny as he tries to explain to his schoolmates why his evangelical parents aren't really bigots. 'You see we believe that the bible says that...' Well, who taught him that?!
The next step is for the council to intervene on a school recommendation; to "rescue'' such children from unfit religious parents who are unwilling to separate their belief from how they manifest that belief, i.e. who don't impart the complete equivalence of heterosexual and homosexual unions.
Then council staff can place the victim of 'sexual ethics abuse' with a worthy couple who can ensure that the imbalance is redressed.
Couldn't possibly stand up in court, but that doesn't stop someone trying. Especially, now it's open season.
I note that the British Humanist Association in their statement detect the guiding hand of my Lord Carey of Clifton behind the couple's case here - the same Lord Carey characterised as "divisive, capricious and arbitrary" (what an epitaph for an Anglican archbishop to earn himself!) in the words of a previous judgement repeated and endorsed by the judge today.
What an amazing ruling by Lord Justice Munby, as quoted by Andrew Brown!!
Hoorah for the courts of England!
Are there any more judges like him? Can they be shipped pronto to the USA side of the Pond?
I am so tired of certain people (Christians seem to be the most public at the moment, but I'm sure it occurs with other faiths and philosophies as well) who think that their moral positions are so much more grander, purer, holier, true (all caps, 64-pt Gothic bold) than the rest of us mere unwashed, sinful mortals they find themselves having to consort with, that they and they alone are immune from mundane civil laws. Here they are, being sought after by God Herself, and they have to put up with “those kind of people”! There have been cases like this in the USA of a similar nature. For example, there are pharmacist's assistants (chemist’s assistants) who have refused to give customers their prescription contraceptives -- because contraceptives of any kind are immoral.
The obvious solution would be to work for a pharmacy/chemist's shop that does not carry contraceptives and informs its customers beforehand that it does not. But no, that would be logical, and wouldn't allow the objectors to exercise their moral superiority.
I used to know several Christian pacifists who were opposed to the US military, and felt this country’s mass expenditure on instruments of death was inherently evil. But I can't think of a single one of them who, in the course of their business or social contact, would have been rude, impolite, hostile, refused service to, or otherwise demean, members of the military they came in contact with.
The judgment is worth reading.
Mr Diamond and his friends have tried to create martyrs - some newspapers and commentators who are effectively building a fascist head of steam here have given this group undeserved credibility and support. The rhetoric is fearful.
But there are three things that need saying. The first is put well by Andrew Brown, this should have been settled discreetly, this couple have been badly used by those who have clearly manipulated them and written their letters etc.
The second is to note how impossible it is to differentiate between those who simply hate gay people and want to do them harm and those who, for religious reasons want to tell gay people they are sick and or are living an evil life. Fostering standards require carers to be positive with kids of all ages over questions about gay people - they are not, nor should they be interested in the reasons behind a failure to meet this standard.
Finally the amazing thing is how very few cases there are like this. Mindful of the centuries of murderous violence perpetrated here against gay people and still all too evident elsewhere the turnaround has been extraordinarily quick. Only 18 years ago when we first offered to foster the chair of the selection panel had to be moved out because of his anti-gay beliefs, ten years later I chaired that same panel.
Whatever the vociferously fundamentalist Christians have to say about this judgement, it is based on the ethic of 'Justice for ALL', rather than just for Christians. Christ died for ALL, not just Christians, and we have to realise that God's justice is for everyone - not even just for 'God's own' people.
After all, fostering and adoption processes are properly negotiated - not for the foster-parents primary good, but for that of the children they weant to foster. And if the government is paying the carers for the fostering, they do have a right to say whom they consider the best carers.
Oh blimey, I wish people would read the judgment! The whole judgment was predicated on the fact that no decision had actually been made by the council. As the parties had not been able to agree what they were arguing about and none had adequately asked for what relief they were seeking the court could not give permission to apply for judicial review. This judgment in itself neither makes nor changes the law.
That said, however, the judgment did rather seek to unpick the counsel for the claimants and I suspect we'll see more of the judges' statements in subsequent judgments.
I find the huge efforts, skill and goodwill of Social Services and the Court very impressive.
This couple have had great consideration, thought and public funds lavished on them, despite their views which rule themselves out as foster carers under the law.
Godliness turns up in secular places where children and all people are valued.
If only the churches could show of a fraction of all this.
First of all thanks to Simon for bringing us this judgment and all the comment and analysis that goes with it. The bible says some things that we should all strive after wherever we stand on the theological spectrum of the issues of the day that divide us, however strongly we may feel those divisions.
One of those things is the clear new testament injunction to be subject to the higher powers and obey the law. Another is Jesus' injunction that we seek to serve others rather than seek earthly predominance over others. Trying to carve out a generalised freedom to disregard the state's on fairness is a horrible spectacle and brings Christianity into disrepute.
If the judgement is that a couple who believe gay sex is wrong cannot be fosterparents, then I think glee about it would be misplaced. For a start is would disqualify all Roman Catholics from being fosterparents, unless they go on record as opposing official church teaching. Anglicans, too, would seem untrustworthy candidates for the role of fosterparent.
This whole area is confused. Are members of the National Secular Society suitable foster parents? What would they do if a child came home and said "I believe in God, and I want to go to church"?
For all the analysis (some careful, some not), we do seem to live in an age where firmly held values are in dispute - almost whatever they are.
Homosexuality is a proxy issue for a wider debate - and with all such issues, the conflict in fact serves its protagonists poorly. "The Church" is allowing itself to be defined in the public mind by this one issue, about which, so far as we know, Jesus said nothing.
Fr Joe posits the same claim as Mr Diamond.
The Fostering Standards require the foster parents to be able to teach positive values about homosexuality to children in their care.
Just as the Fostering Standards would not tolerate teaching children from an unmarried couple that their parents are evil doers and vile fornicators. Nor would the Standards permit approval of those who hold marriages between the races is wrong. They would not be interested in the reasons behind these beliefs.
The teaching that being homosexual and living a normal family life as homosexual is inimical to the Christian religion (in this case) remains a huge obstacle when those who want to hold and pass on such teaching want a job as a Foster Carer or indeed want to adopt.
My own experience of a Fostering and Adoption Panel tells me that by far the majority of those coming forward are possessed of a religious faith that does not prevent them from being approved.
I took part in a BBC programme last night where this couple appeared.
What surprised me was they seemed genuinely shocked at the decision of the court.
Either they were good actors or their legal team had failed to advise them of the probable outcome. The "arguments" employed by Mr Diamond did not vary much from previous cases he has taken to court - all of which have been lost.
It seems to me perfectly legitimate to seek clarity in the law - as this action has - but it seems totally illegitimate to give these people any hope that the law will support the order they sought from the court.
Test cases are important, if not essential to the making of law, but it seems to me as Mr Addison makes clear above that all Mr Diamond and his friends are doing is making the role of say Fostering and Adoption Panels even less nuanced than in the past.
Perhaps this is a deliberate ploy to make the divisions even sharper - and if so then the lies and disinformation that spews out of the groups instructing Mr Diamond would make sense - but someone should have told Eunice and Owen Johns.
The judgment is very clear if one reads it through that there is no blanket ban on anything or anyone, merely a focus on the well being of children who are highly vulnerable.
It seems entirely appropriate that suitability is assessed on a broad basis including how one would support someone who was gay or questioning their sexuality.
The well being of children, including gay and questioning ones needs to take priority. I think it is possible for people with differing views on the subject to have good awareness, have thought about their parental responsibilities and assure those making decisions they would be equally supportive to those in their care. It is the extreme christian side that is maintaining they are unable to be supportive to gay children, but I think this is really the core problem of the anti gay view.
'What made me laugh out loud about the case is that it is a black couple petitioning for the right to discriminate.'
Yes, a few of us blacks still distinguish prejudice against genetic melanin levels in the skin from reluctance to impart sexual orientation lessons to infants.
Is it remotely possible that this was the context in which they answered the interviewer's questions?
If you have insight that we still haven't managed to attain in our 'blessed ignorance' (unqualified by any other factors), the answer is patient education, not minority ridicule.
It's obvious these are good people, though their brand of Christianity borders on the fundamentalist and they are certainly stubborn. The behaviour of Derby Social Services and the legal judgements are absolutely impeccable. There is no 'persecution' of Christianity here. Christian leaders really have a duty to spell out clearly to their people the limits of the exercise of religious conscience in the public sphere. Which ones are going to do so? We're all holding our breath.
Martin Reynolds, if a couple demonized unmarried couples or demonized sexually active gays, that would certainly be a contra-indicator for fosterage. But if they said that sex outside marriage is wrong (without using such a horrible word as 'fornication'), would that disqualify them? Or is they said masturbation is wrong? If so, my point stands: such a judgment would disqualify all Roman Catholics and most Anglicans.
john talks about limits of religious conviction in the public sphere. But isn't fosterage a private sphere? While potential fosterparents are being weeded out, possibly for moral views that would have been universal 40 years ago, how many others whose views are potentially just as deleterious are passing under the radar? If we all could choose our parents the way that fosterparents are chosen, we probably would not have chosen them, but instead opted for the sanitized PC alternatives -- and the result would probably be worse.
Spirit of V2: in the judgemnt, it says that the couple stated that they believed the homosexual orientation to be wrong, and that the husband would try to turn around a gay person. They did not seem to make a distinction between actions and being gay (as conservative Christians commonly fail to do, in fact, while vigorously protesting otherwise).
Thank you, Martin my dear friend.
Fr Joe - No, to both your questions.
Conservative Christians make excellent foster parents, I was delighted to be a party to the approval of many.
In nearly all cases of this sort that came to us, those seeking to be foster parents were made aware of the importance of being non judgmental and accepted that as part of their job - in fact they are very very good at it! Most conservative Christians I deal with as prospective foster parents are not like those we read on the blogs. They are sound family people with the ability to take on children with some of the most complex needs, their fath is a huge resource in what can be the most trying of lives with their charges.
Without any effort I can think of at least two families who I would have absolute confidence in placing a gay child with complex needs and their theological tradition would be conservative. They are outstanding foster parents who would never dream of abusing their position of trust to "turn" a gay child.
But these cases, as I have said above, actually do not help. They make sensible thoughtful social workers working with creative and experienced panels all the more nervous and close doors that should be left open. They damage the very people they say they are trying to help.
The British humanists have changed their story and headline to accord a little more with the facts!
If the couple are into converting gays into heterosexuals, that is certainly a contra^-indicator. I am only commenting on the glee of those who take the case as making the usual doctrine on homosexual acts a barrier to fosterage. Of course if it comes about that the doctrine is proved to be false then couples who still subscribe to it, like couples who subscribe to slavery today, would be considered dangerously eccentric.
What the debate misses is that homosexuals do need particular protections because homosexuals are particularly picked out for discrimination and mistreatment - along, I grant you, with other groups. I don't believe you can make the same case for adolescents who have sex outside of marriage.
Is fostering a private concern? If it were, then it would simply be a matter of taking in a kid with no reference to any counsels, child welfare services, or any government agency - a sort of Dickensian world, in which little waifs are simply scooped off the street by whoever wants them - a pedophile's dream, in fact.
No. It is not a private matter. Nor, in point of fact, is the raising of children by biological parents - there are laws governing the reasonable treatment of children by the parents who produced them.
In a more abstract sense, it must *not* be a private matter, because the children who are raised will become the society in which we age, and which goes on after we are dead.
Finally, I would be a bit leery of the sincere interest in a child's welfare of someone who would place their good standing in their church above clearing legal hurdles in order to care for that child. If, in fact, they choose not to for conscience's sake, then the inability to foster should not be considered too great a sacrifice. If it is, they may wish to question the sincerity of their beliefs.
I feel - nor express "glee" - in fact I am and remain horrified 1. by the way the story was spun by Mr Diamonds backers 2. by the neglect, even abuse of the couple by those trying to make a point.
Mark Brunson, you agree with me that this judgement -- if the court had really decreed that disapproval of homosexual acts disqualifies one from fosterage -- would exclude all Roman Catholics unless they could prove they do not subscribe to their Church's teaching. Certainly, very many Catholics including myself do not agree with the teaching. But when you say "I would be a bit leery of the sincere interest in a child's welfare of someone who would place their good standing in their church above clearing legal hurdles in order to care for that child" you put an emotive spin on a topic that should give pause to anyone who cares for civil liberties. You certainly exclude all people who actually agree with the Church's teaching, while being otherwise quite free of homophobic tendencies.
"Mark Brunson, you agree with me that this judgement -- if the court had really decreed that disapproval of homosexual acts disqualifies one from fosterage -- would exclude all Roman Catholics unless they could prove they do not subscribe to their Church's teaching."
But a. there was no judgement, b. there is a distinct difference between having your own children or adopting children and looking after children short term on behalf of the State.
I don't see how discussing a hypothetical situation that hasn't arisen and hasn't been decided on by anyone can make any meaningful contribution here.
I can only strongly recommend everyone to read a. the jugdment itself and b. Peter Ould's blogpost on it Simon linked to in another one of the threads on this topic.
That is a sacrifice to be expected in a pluralistic society, SVII.
However, the important fact is that there was no such blanket ruling. The rest is simply speculation of what *might* happen under such a ruling.
To me, there is no emotive "spin" on my statement; quite simply the only reason to foster a child is out of concern for the child's welfare, safety and well-being. There is no clear expectation of taking up the role of parent in entirety, so the pain of parting is a constant reality. There are few material benefits, and fostering is largely an altruistic pursuit. The children who are fostered are often taken from dangerous, even deadly, circumstances.
If it seems that I am far less concerned about the emotional comfort of pursuing one's relationship with an ecclesial structure and the need to protect a child's emotional and developmental well-being, it is because I am. I do not apologize for that, nor do I consider it an unreasonable position.
I would also question - if such a blanket judgment were to be made - if embracing the teachings of the RCC, as they stand, would not constitute a harmful environment for the child. Would the foster parents be willing to suppress and keep silent on the subject with the child. Would that be a reasonable expectation, that such a relationship would *preclude* sharing the religious/spiritual aspect of the foster parent's life?
Mark Brunson, well, as others have pointed out, neither the court judgment nor most of its supporters, are ready to go as far as you do. It may well be true that the official teaching of the RCC and indeed of the Church of England creates a harmful environment for children. But that has to be arguedand changed by open discussion and rational debate. If the inherent abusiveness of Catholic and Anglican teaching became an established perception in the civil sphere we would see many interesting and painful clashes. For instance, anyone who repeated the language of the CDF or the Catechism could be sued for hate speech or, if the teachings are really harmful and the parents will not suppress them, children could be removed from their parents, now perceived as abusive. You show scant respect for Christians who actually believe their churches' teachings when you say "emotional comfort of pursuing one's relationship with an ecclesiastical structure". Such a statement proves my point that it is not only zany evangelicals but many or most ordinary Catholics and Anglicans who will have reason to feel that their worthiness to perform functions such as fostering has been put in question.
Surely parents, foster carers and all carers may be invited to share the life and spirituality of the child if invited; and if they earn that invitation ? Hardly the place of foster carers and other temporary folk to second children into their life. Who is serving whom ?
Who is serving whom is in fact the key issue here, inst it ?
Speaking as a Fundamental-ist, I understand one vital Fundamental is seeing in the other something precious, - Matthew 25 etc - with its practical sequelae.
"if the court had really decreed that disapproval of homosexual acts disqualifies one from fosterage -- would exclude all Roman Catholics unless they could prove they do not subscribe to their Church's teaching."
Good heavens. Anyone who knows anything about the *practice of Roman Catholics*---as opposed to the teachings of the Vatican---never would presume that RCs DID "subscribe to their Church's [hierarchs'] teaching"! O_o
Your anger is noted, and I forgive you.
The point is, human beings are more important than religious convictions. I'm sorry if you disagree with this.
I do not, however, allow you to put words in my mouth. I do not approve of suing someone for hate speech because of their religious conviction, nor because they repeat the words of their church's leaders! This is a falsehood to apply such a twist to what I have written, bordering on an *ad hominem* attack.
I don't have respect for the belief that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered" and, frankly, don't understand those who do. I am neither in the position, nor would want the position, to disallow them from such a misguided belief. I pointed out to *you*, if you recall, that the judgment made no such blanket denials.
I *would not*, however, simply allow that such a belief does not disqualify them from raising a homosexual adolescent. I note that you do not address the substantive question of whether it would be reasonable to expect a parent of such religious conviction to refrain from sharing that conviction with a youth or child in their care.
Beliefs, if adhered to, sometimes require sacrifice. This is a point that those of us adhering to the more progressive side have had to learn, and have made sacrifices accordingly. I suspect your outrage is over the fact that, for the first time, those who have been the traditional status quo are having to actually sacrifice for their beliefs, as well. A great deal of my reason for belief in this is your continued positing of a "slippery slope" scenario, rather than the actual situation at hand, and the rather novel idea that ensuring continued debate in the religious structures trumps secular efforts at protecting the populace.
Again - whether you like it or not, this is not a projection or political argument, but a fact that such sacrifices are required as part of membership in a pluralistic society. I think, if you ask, you would find that the others here go as "far" in this as I do.
Does church teaching turn people into bullies, or do bullies latch onto church teaching? I am thinking of the US hierarch who told one questioner "your problem is with mother nature more than with mother church" and who declared today that the church does not reject gays, it is they who cut themselves off from the church, expecting the church to approve of "their practices".
Fr Joe I just read your:
"Does church teaching turn people into bullies, or do bullies latch onto church teaching?"
to my Aunt who runs the RCIA programme in her church and her reply with a gentle smile ....
"I think he's right on both counts."
"Does church teaching turn people into bullies, or do bullies latch onto church teaching?"
The important fact is that, either way, the *teaching* is inextricably linked to the *bullying*. Whether it facilitates, or teaches bullying is irrelevant.