Saturday, 6 December 2014

Could Paul Givan’s “conscience clause” be used against Christians?

Paul Givan's "Conscience Clause" -
the first "opt in" law in history?
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Former double-jobbing MLA Paul Givan, now chairperson of the Stormont Justice Committee (answerable to minister David Ford), is submitting a clause which would allow exemption from equality legislation on the grounds of “conscience”.

Taking the recent decision against Ashers bakery as his starting point, Mr Givan is keen for us to see this as clearing up a “grey area” that disadvantaged the Christian owner of Ashers.

Regarding this case, although the decision went against the bakery, it would be hard to see exactly what he means, as the bakery hardly lost out despite a decision against it, with the DUP making a big play of flooding their conference with Ashers brand baked goods and countless messages of support.

However, has the ambitious Givan really thought this through?

Firstly, it would create a loophole intentionally, and perhaps create the first ever “opt in” law in modern legal history. Think for example if a loophole was made in law relating to speeding for the owners of powerful cars. Hardly a good idea, is it? It’s basically a scrapping of the whole law. And what about that law?

Originally designed to stop innocent members of the public being discriminated against due to belonging, or being assumed to belong to, a particular group in society. It could be used against the very group Givan claims he is trying to protect.

Think about this one: “No, sorry sir, I refuse to bake you a confirmation cake as this is an (opposing ideology) bakery, and Mr Givan’s law gives me that right”.

Cake baking may not be that serious an affair, but what Givan isn’t telling you is that this would cover ALL aspects of life. It would allow people who do not agree with you, your beliefs or your identity to legally disadvantage you on that basis alone.

The sad fact is that this case is very much a product of Givan’s – and his party’s – own making. By refusing to let churches and religious groups that wished to do so hold marriage ceremonies for same sex couples (such as the non-subscribing Presbyterian Church All Souls in Belfast), Givan has helped create this quagmire. In reality this would have PROTECTED churches’ rights to not hold same sex marriages if it was against their wishes, the perfect balance of rights in that situation, satisfying both camps.

But see this clumsy amendment for what it really is: an attempt to bolster the DUP’s focus group created image as “strong” in the run-up to Westminster elections, which they are worried about due to high profile in-party squabbles and their fumbling of many key issues, welfare reform being a prominent one.

Don’t become a notch on Paul Givan’s career’s bedpost. See through his ill thought out exemption clause and write directly to him letting him know you do not support his amendment as it weakens everyone’s right to be free from discrimination. Keep an eye out for any public consultation that Givan has alluded to on his twitter feed.

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