These two ideas don’t automatically sound related, but they came up in a recent news item from the Boston Globe here. Can a Catholic firefighter object when asked to drive a fire truck in a “gay pride” parade? The court ruled they could not.
I think this case is close to the edge, but on balance went the wrong way. An employee with religious convictions about the sinfulness of homosexual behaviour ought, in my view, be allowed to decline to participate in activities the sole purpose of which is to affirm and celebrate such behaviour. Of course it would be different if, for example, there was a fire involved, even if it were a fire that broke out on one of the floats! There saving life and property would be the issue and employees should, and I imagine would, be happy to do the job. But to be asked to play this supporting role in a purely symbolic affirmation of homosexuality is going too far. It seems that it would have been perfectly possible for the employees to not have been rostered on this duty.
These issues are similar to those which came up in the Ladele case a few years ago in the UK and in Europe. See a recent paper here which comments on some of the issues.
One of the most important Law and Religion cases in Australia over the last few years has been the litigation involving the decision of Christian Youth Camps (CYC) to decline a booking from Cobaw Community Health for a camp the purpose of which was to teach that homosexuality is a normal and natural form of human sexuality. (For the original tribunal decision see here, for the appeal decision affirming most of the Tribunal’s findings, see here.) The decision, particularly the 2014 Victorian Court of Appeal decision, is an important one because it deals with one of the most vexed issues facing believers adhering to traditional sexual morality, facing a Western world which is rapidly abandoning previous views.
For many years, even following the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s, Christians and other religious believers could assume that core beliefs on sexual morality were still generally seen as worthwhile by most of society, even if increasingly not complied with: views applauding faithfulness to marriage vows, warning against the unwisdom of pre-marital sex, supporting heterosexual intercourse as normal and homosexual behaviour as wrong or at least “not normal”. But in recent years views of this sort are not simply seen as outdated and eccentric, they are now seen as positively “evil” (although the irony of using “moral” words like “evil” in a discourse which claims to reject morality is not usually noted.) Hence Christians and others will find their ability to adhere to traditional sexual morality, and not to be required to support other views, is increasingly being undermined.
I believe that a strong support for religious freedom would provide an appropriate balance here. I wrote a paper outlining the CA CYC v Cobaw decision shortly after it was handed down, and suggesting where the majority had gone wrong. At the time I hoped that the High Court of Australia would grant special leave to appeal the decision so some of these matters could be clarified. (See here for a short piece arguing for this published in one of Australia’s mainstream law journals.) Unfortunately, just before Christmas, the High Court declined to grant special leave. I have written a comment on the decision, making some suggestions for the implications for the future. These important issues will not go away, but it seems we may have to wait a bit longer before some of them are authoritatively resolved.
I presented a paper at the “Australia Day Convention” in 2014 which discussed some issues which are going to create ongoing pressure points for Christians in the 21st century. The paper can be read here. Matthias Media were kind enough to turn this material into an ebook, which can be purchased here. Some of these issues are ones that developed further during 2014 and I will post on these when I get a chance over the next few weeks. (By the way, for those reading, this is not the sort of blog where you will read something new every day! You can “follow” this blog using the button at the top of the page, but otherwise I will post when I can and you may find it helpful to come back once every few weeks!)
This blog will be a place where I post new thoughts, links and articles that relate to “law and religion” issues, mostly in Australia but with some from overseas as well. I will also be linking to some material I have already written, for those who missed it. The blog will help to collect these ideas in one place. May it be used for the benefit of those interested in these issues, the cause of furthering religious freedom in Australia, and for the glory of God. Soli deo gloria!