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Centre Article 131: Church Exemptions from Law? Same-sex Adoption and BBC Spin

Well, the BBC website is up to its old tricks. Inviting its viewers to contribute to its "Have Your Say" section on a recent issue involving Roman Catholic adoptions agencies, the BBC has framed the issue in a dishonest way. Here is how.

The issue is this: apparently, there seems to be some doubt whether the government of Tony Blair will grant an exemption to Roman Catholic adoption agencies forcing them to place children in the homes of same-sex couples when to do so goes against Roman Catholic teaching.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has said that should the Catholics not be granted an exemption to the blanket rule, they will close their adoption agencies in the United Kingdom.

One of the questions framing the issue and inviting comment from the readers was "Should the Catholic Church be able to blackmail the government by threatening to close its agencies?"

The main article asks whether the Church be exempt from law as if to suggest that what is being sought is some kind of illegal position—rather than one that it is perfectly legal to hold.

The article having been on the website for several days now, there are many pages of responses. Many of them are rather to the side of the issues. Some are interesting in what they show about people's ability to grasp the nuances of the debates of the day.

Some are from learned people; many are not. Some, as "Big Bobby Clobber" used to say it on that marvelous CBC Comedy show, "the Royal Canadian Air Farce," are both. For example, Professor Bernard Dickens of the University of Toronto says this:

Religious agencies should not engage in delivery of public services if they propose to violate human rights values, such as non-discrimination. Civil society should furnish adoption, hospital and related services through secular agencies, rather than through discriminatory "charitable" religious institutions.
—Bernard Dickens, Toronto, Canada

Here we see our old friend the "non-religious secular" invoked as a "religion-free zone" and the principle of "non-discrimination" invoked to suggest a blanket right for same-sex advocates to force their views on society at large. Public services extend to include any and all adoptions but not those of "religious agencies." Religion, on this reading, is outside "the public."

With respect, Professor Dickens is wrong on all counts. First, the secular (read the Chamberlain decision of the Supreme Court of Canada) must, like "the public", include the religious not exclude it and, secondly, even the principles of non-discrimination apply to religious as well as non-religious citizens. That is to say, the principle of the duty of accommodation (a well-recognized principle within human rights itself) may be used by religious people as well as same-sex advocates who might wish to attack religions.

Interestingly, the BBC website is a "moderated" website, and comments are screened before being posted. Not all are posted. Here is what I submitted earlier today (January 26, 2007). At the time of writing this article it has not been posted.

The issue here is the nature of a free and democratic society itself. Citizens are allowed to hold diverse views on a wide variety of matters; human sexuality and marriage being just two.

The State should allow parents to put children up for adoption to agencies of various sorts to be raised as closely as possible with their beliefs. Agencies that advocate legal beliefs ought to be able to function without prejudice from those who disagree with those beliefs. Laws should accommodate diversity not eradicate it.

Here we see an attempt to force one sort of sexual belief dogma on those who are perfectly entitled to another. Failure to allow Catholic agencies threatens the freedom of all.

—Iain Benson

It will be interesting to watch yet another recent example of how terms such as "secular" and "non-discrimination" are used in lock-step to further the agenda of one side of what should be continuing and open public discussions and debates.

There is room in a free and democratic society for various views on sexual practices and beliefs and the dogmas in support of them, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.

The failure to see this debate as one about acceptable beliefs is a very worrying aspect of these sorts of debates—as worrying as the smug attitude of "one size fits all" that dominates so much of what passes for "commentary."