You don’t have to be a former religious leader with a talent for talking rubbish to sit in the House of Lords, but it does help.
There is something strangely divine about this particular suggestion, coming from this particular gentleman. Like the stories of the Immaculate Conception and JC rising from the dead, I find it literally unbelievable that such a perverse and inequitable reconfiguration of our legal system – which would cause actual, tangible suffering to many – should be advocated by one of this country’s apparent moral guardians.
(Ironically, twenty six of Carey’s mates owe their position in the House of Lords at the expense of genuine religious discrimination against others. I’m sure that’s one type of religious discrimination Carey or his mates won’t be whinging about any day soon.)
In a nutshell Carey believes that Christians who want to discriminate ought to be allowed to, provided there is a religious justification. This is a stark illustration of the unwritten, general rule of discrimination: if you have prejudices but are not religious, then that is unacceptable and you must be shunned by society, go on Oprah, and beg like a dog for forgiveness. If you have prejudices and you can find a religious justification or can make one up, you are the victim of religious discrimination. The law must protect you.
It is depressing that we should even have to make these arguments, but this is why Carey is wrong:
- As I explain here, not all Christians share the same opinions on everything, even religious matters. Presumably that is one of the reasons why there are so many denominations. For example, some Christians are homophobic and would love nothing more than the legal right to discriminate against homosexuals or other people they consider inferior, but this is not a fair representation of all Christians. It is grossly unfair, in fact.
- It drives a wedge through precious anti-discrimination legislation. If anyone can opt out of this legislation – which is one of the cornerstones of our fragile democracy and an essential component of the rule of law – then what exactly is the purpose of that legislation? (Answer: there is no purpose.)
- It is a perfect recipe for an unstable society. If Christians are allowed exemption from the law based on their beliefs, then those of other faiths must surely be afforded the same privilege, though I imagine Carey might argue that we are a “Christian country” and that this privilege should only apply to Christians. Or is he perfectly happy for a Muslim to discriminate against Jews and Christians based on his or her reading of the Koran? Is that really what you want, you stupid old man? Either Carey wants to give only Christians this special right, which creates genuine religious discrimination against those of other faiths or none, or he wants to give all religious people of whatever faith this privilege, which creates an unworkable legal system and discriminates against those who are not religious and who don’t want to pretend to be.
- In delivering decisions our legal system would have to give the highest possible weight to religious views, over and above any other factors. The only people qualified to advise on matters of religious doctrine are…religious leaders. There is a word for all this: theocracy. Secular judges are not perfect by any means but they are generally rather good at making unprejudiced decisions based on actual facts. Religious leaders, on the other hand, are often excellent at making prejudiced decisions in spite of actual facts.
- The damage to be caused by having a “freedom of conscience” exemption to discrimination legislation is as limitless as the human capacity to do harm, which I think everyone would agree is considerable. For example, some Christians, including a former manager of the England football team, believe that disabled people are the way they are because of sins committed in a former life. Hoddle said: “You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. [Cough, cough]. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.” I’m not suggesting for a second all Christians are this stupid – I imagine very few are – but that is irrelevant. Allow discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and just watch as demented religious views lead to one vile court decision after another. Are we to stand by while the disabled are sidelined and have their hard-won legal protections stripped away? In the same way, hatred of black people was, for many Mormons in America, an essential part of their faith but was jettisoned in a bid to detoxify the brand. Again, I’m not suggesting all Mormons or even many Mormons have these views, but sign up to Carey Law and racists will have all their Christmases at once – and they will all be white. And if you’re thinking, “oh, come on, surely those things are so bad that no-one would let that happen”, you miss the point: there would be a legal right to do those things which would mean they become less objectionable.
Unlike a shoebox, which you can never bring yourself to get rid of because you just know it’s so bloody useful, you never know what to do with a former Archbishop because he or she – sorry, always he – is so bloody useless.
Let this fool spout nonsense in church all day long and sing Kumbaya until and including the day he meets his maker for all I care, just please, please, don’t give him a privileged input into the political and legal fabric of this nation.