At the heart of this attack on the concept of exemptions for faith-based agencies lies a false analogy drawn between alleged discrimination against homosexuals and racial discrimination, and this is already beginning to appear in Australia.
This analogy allows opponents of exemptions to dismiss the objection that the law makes exceptions all the time - for example, for halal abattoirs, or for Sikhs to wear turbans, or for pacifists to avoid military service - by pointing to the legitimate absence of exceptions in laws against racial discrimination. Opposition to same-sex marriage is therefore likened to support for laws against inter-racial marriage (which continued in some US states until the 1960s), and opposition to homosexual adoptions is likened to refusing to adopt children to black parents.
The analogy is false because allowing blacks and whites to marry did not require changing the whole concept of marriage; and allowing black parents to adopt white children, or vice versa, did not require changing the whole concept of family, or for that matter, the whole concept of childhood. Same-sex marriage and adoption changes the meaning of marriage, family, parenting and childhood for everyone, not just for homosexual couples. And whatever issues of basic justice remain to be addressed, I am not sure that it is at all true to say that homosexuals today suffer the same sort of legal and civil disadvantages which blacks in the United States and elsewhere suffered forty years ago, and to some extent still suffer.
All the same, the race analogy has been very effective in casting the churches as persecutors. So, in the United Kingdom, and also in Massachusetts where a similar issue arose in 2006, warnings that the Catholic Church would be forced to close its adoption services if exemptions were not granted were described as blackmail.
* * *
English precedents remain powerful in a cultural and legal sense, especially throughout the Anglophone world, but the religious situation in Australia is somewhat closer to that of the United States rather than post-Christian Britain. Both our Prime Minister and his challenger are serious Christians. Neither the British Prime Minister nor his alternative are in this mould, and the Catholic community here is larger and with a much longer and stronger tradition of contributions to public political life than in Britain, whose history and traditions are still residually anti-Catholic.
All the same, this case shows what can happen when bills of rights are interpreted from the premises of a minority secularist mindset, especially when it is sharpened, as in Europe, by fear of home-grown Islam. Reading freedom of religion as a limited right to be offensive to which only a limited toleration is extended is not acceptable in a democracy where many more than a majority belong to the great religious traditions - even more so when it is claimed that this is “necessary for democracy”. Democracy does not need to be secular. The secularist reading of religious freedom places Christians (at least) in the position of a barely tolerated minority (even when they are the majority) whose rights must always yield to the secular agenda, although I don’t think other religious minorities will be treated the same way.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Peace and rumors of war
~From Zenit, an excerpt from Cardinal Pell's address on Politics and Religion