The case in question is R (Eunice Johns and Owen Johns) v. Derby City Council, and it deals with whether or not a couple should be allowed to be foster parents if they have negative feelings toward LGBT people and relationships because of their Christian beliefs. The Court ruled that those who hold negative views of homosexuality and cannot portray it in a positive light should not be allowed to foster children. Of course, Christian organizations from Britain are flipping out over this ruling, saying that equality laws are discriminating against religious people, and that their rights are not being respected or valued.
But when the case is read, what do we actually see in the ruling, and therefore how should we approach the issues brought up by it; namely those of freedom of religion vs. equality rights?
First the Court does make the distinction that being foster parents is not a right that everyone is entitled to, and that when individuals apply the voluntarily submit themselves to abiding by the rules and regulations of the Government. To me, this alone is reason enough to throw the case out, for the John's voluntarily decided that they would submit themselves to these rules, thus no discrimination. But the Court goes further and addresses the crux of the issue - how far do religious rights go when you exist in a multicultural and diverse society, and how does this affect the welfare of a child.
The Court makes clear that there is a fundamental difference between holding a belief personally, and the manifestation of that belief in public. We are all guaranteed the right to hold certain doctrines and ideas, yet when those beliefs come into conflict with the welfare of someone else, those rights should be and are limited. This is made clear in section 106 of the ruling, which says...
It does show a body of opinion which considers that a child or young person who is homosexual or is doubtful about his or her sexual orientation may experience isolation and fear of discovery if their carer is antipathetic to or disapproves of homosexuality or same-sex relationships. The material also indicates that there is support in the literature for the view that those who hide their sexual orientation or find it difficult to "come out" may have more health problems and in particular mental health problems. Whether those views are 'right' or 'wrong', whether the claimants or the Commission have the preponderance of expert opinion on their side, is not the point – and it is not a matter on which we express any views. But in the light of such literature, together with the steer given by the National Minimum Standards, it cannot be said that an examination of the attitudes to homosexuality and same-sex relationships of a person who has applied to be a foster carer is Wednesbury unreasonable.And in Section 97 which states...
In these circumstances it is quite impossible to maintain that a local authority is not entitled to consider a prospective foster carer's views on sexuality, least of all when, as here, it is apparent that the views held, and expressed, by the claimants might well affect their behaviour as foster carers. This is not a prying intervention into mere belief. Neither the local authority nor the court is seeking to open windows into people's souls. The local authority is entitled to explore the extent to which prospective foster carers' beliefs may affect their behaviour, their treatment of a child being fostered by them.
The reason why the John's were declined the ability to be foster parents was because in their conversations with their case worker the John's made statements that would lead the case worker to determine that it would be a negative atmosphere for a LGBT child to be in. For example, Mr. John's plainly stated that if one of the children in their care was confused about his sexuality, he would try to "turn him" to heterosexuality.
Thus, were Christians as a whole denied the ability to foster children? Not at all. Instead the High Court recognized that when an individual cannot separate their beliefs from their actions in how they care for a child that the State has entrusted them with, they are not deemed fit to foster. The ruling had nothing to do with religion, and instead had everything to do with the atmosphere that a potential LGBT child would be in and how it would affect them. Once again, this shows that we must not always trust headlines and instead really dig into the issue to determine what is actually being said.