Melanesian Frog Worship and the Secular Compromise

Tim Ross reports on the Johns case in Derby, in which a couple was denied the right to care for foster children due to their homophobic views.

Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson made the remarks when ruling on the case of a Christian couple who were told that they could not be foster carers because of their view that homosexuality is wrong.

The judges underlined that, in the case of fostering arrangements at least, the right of homosexuals to equality “should take precedence” over the right of Christians to manifest their beliefs and moral values.

I don’t have too much to say about the case or the judgment itself; that would be a lot of, “yeah, what he said!” and that would be rather dull. I mostly want to comment on this little snippet in the article:

It was a “paradox” that society has become simultaneously both increasingly secular and increasingly diverse in religious affiliation, they said.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think that’s a paradox at all. I think that increasing secularism is a very sensible response to increasing diversity. When a society becomes increasingly divided between several competing belief systems, there will be problems due to that competition, and the way to keep those problems down to a dull roar is to make religion a more private, individual matter and make the larger culture a more neutral ground. Secularism is a way to say, “You worship your way, they’ll worship in theirs, and some of us will just sleep in on the weekends, and as long as we keep that in mind, we’ll get along pretty well.” Not that it’s a perfect system, or that it works exactly like that on the first try. Just that it’s an admirable goal.

And with that in mind:

Speaking personally, Canon Dr Chris Sugden, the executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream, said the judges were wrong to say religion was a matter of private individuals’ beliefs.

“They are treating religion like Richard Dawkins does, as if Christian faith was on a parallel with Melanesian frog worship,” he said.

“The judgment asserts that there is no hierarchy of rights, but itself implies there is one in which the right to practise one’s religion is subordinated to the secular assumptions about equality.”

And here we have the key to the relationship between religious diversity and encroaching secularism. Fine, Dr. Sugden, there is indeed a hierarchy of rights, and that hierarchy places the right of children (who themselves may possibly be of minority sexuality) to live free of homophobia well above the right of homophobic Christians to shape the minds of impressionable, vulnerable children. Mr. and Mrs. Johns can believe whatever they want about Jesus and whatever he may have taught about homosexuality (especially if it’s not even in the Bible), but they are not entitled to pass their bigotry onto children entrusted to their care by the state. On the one hand we have “minds of impressionable children” and on the other we have “Mr. and Mrs. Johns’s homophobic religious beliefs” and amazingly enough, they do not weigh the same. Now, Dr. Sugden, as you live in a country in which the people are free to worship whatever they want—including Melanesian frogs—or nothing at all, do tell us why the state should place Christianity (whose adherents, it should be noted, are far from monolithic on questions of gay rights) on a higher level than any other religion. Anyone can go to Melanesia and verify that their frogs actually exist. Your Christ isn’t nearly so transparent. Do tell us, please, why the courts should place believers’ right to use Christ to justify their bigoted beliefs (regardless of whatever evidence is available) over the protection of children who are already living difficult lives?