Peers claimed that the Equality Bill should be altered to allow people to act according to their conscience when providing goods and services, in the same way that doctors are allowed to refuse to carry out abortions.
Bishop Scott-Joynt, the fifth most senior cleric in the Church of England, pointed out that similar exemptions had been requested but refused in the case of civil partnerships. A Christian registrar, Lilian Ladele, lost a case for unfair dismissal after she refused to carry out the ceremonies for homosexual couples.
The bishop said in a debate in the House of Lords: “The implication of the [conscience] amendment is that each of us... is bound to work as hard as we can to hold the whole range of different people's rights, because there is a sense around that some rights are better than others."
This "some rights are better than others" line strikes me as very unconvincing, not least because I can think of many examples of people's consciences conflicting with their work duties where no one else's rights are affected at all. For example, a vegan who works in an abbatoir, whose conscience won't let them be involved in the killing of animals. A pacifist in the SAS, whose conscience won't let them kill people. A person who works for Huntingdon Life Sciences but is against vivisection. Pacifists, vegans and anti-vivisectionists are all people of conscience for whom I have the greatest respect, even more than for those who believe homosexuality is a sin. So, would the bishops argue that all the people in these examples should be allowed to keep their jobs without penalty? And if not, why not? Am I missing some vital part of their argument?
How times change! On the platform of Romsey station this morning I saw a poster advertising my old comp, though why a state school needs to advertise is beyond me. I see it's changed its name, from plain "Romsey School" to "The Romsey School" - presumably to sound more upmarket. There's a picture of some typical students, too, which, despite the town's being so white that visitors sometimes suffer snow blindness, tries for a multiracial image. "So that's what a black person looks like," is what I imagine the two kids either side of him are thinking. The school has even sprouted a mission statement:
The Romsey School is a community that aims for all...
- To experience and enjoy new challenges and opportunities
- To have a sense of belonging and pride in our school
- To treat others with fairness, kindness and respect
- To make healthy, informed and responsible choices
- To be able to cope with life's ups and downs
- To have a sense of awe and wonder
- To acquire a lifelong love of learning
- To be an active and caring citizen
- To be successful
- TO BE HAPPY
I can sign up to most of that list, but I rather wish they'd mentioned something about, say, being able to write a grammatical sentence, add up, and get some, like, you know, knowledge. But that's probably the influence of the Daily Telegraph.