Saturday, 25 April 2015

Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill

Response of Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster to the Consultation on the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill

Dear Sir 

I write on behalf of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster to express our support for your proposed Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill. The Bible asserts in Romans 13:1  “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Therefore it is the duty of Christians to conduct themselves according to the laws of the land. However the Bible also makes it clear that there are certain cases of conscience where allegiance to God and His Word are superior to what the government of the land might say. For example when Peter and John were forbidden to speak in the name of Christ by the Jewish Council they said “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.
 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”(Acts 4:19-20).  Also when Daniel was commanded to not to pray to God he continued to go to his room and quite publically pray to God (Daniel 6:10). The denial of freedom of conscience is a mark of totalitarianism and we have a humanistic totalitarianism being imposed on us at present. We agree with your assertion that some equality legislation, passed with the intention of protecting minorities, is having an adverse effect on those with religious belief when it comes to the provision of goods and services. We feel that the equality law as it stands at the minute is being used as a weapon against those who hold to a Biblical as opposed to a secular morality. 

We will answer the questions as set out in your consultation document.

Question 1: Do you believe that it would be appropriate to amend the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 as proposed in Appendix 1 to ensure that individuals are not put in a position where the result of this legislation they are forced to choose between acting in violation of their faith conscience by affirming same-sex relationships, or losing their livelihood?

We not only believe that it is appropriate to amend the equality act but we feel that it is a necessity. We fear that if there is not some provision for Christian conscience then large segments of employment will be closed to committed Christians.

Question 2: Is it appropriate that goods and services legislation should be applied in such a way that it narrows diversity and choice for service users who wish to access a service in the context of a faith/particular faith ethos?

It is certainly not appropriate that Evangelical Christians and other people with a strong religious morality, be driven from large segments of business by forcing them to go against conscience if they stay. Christians have historically contributed massively to the business life of the country and to the caring professions and the wedding industry. It is going to be detrimental to the welfare of the country to drive them from these areas. 

Question 3: As an example: a recent High Court Judgement means that Northern Ireland’s Catholic adoption agency will now be required to either be willing to act in violation of its faith identity by endorsing same-sex unions and facilitating gay adoption (which means surrendering their faith identity if they wish to continue as a provider), or to cease service provision. Do you think that gay rights are more important than religious rights such that the need to ensure gay couples can access adoption services from every provider should be pressed even when the consequence is to remove from Catholic couples the right to access a Catholic adoption service from anywhere? Is this the right balance or is there a better balance to be struck? 

No right should be allowed to trump another right. No right is more important than another. Not only are prospective parents being robbed of choice if such agencies close but children who would normally have been sent to such an agency are being robbed of choice.

Question 4:  How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on human rights? 

We feel that the proposed legislation would impact positively on human rights as it rebalances rights.

Question 5: How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on equality of opportunity? 

The proposed legislation would impact positively on equality of opportunity as it gives more equality for a Christian provider to preserve his or her conscience.

Question 6: Do you have any comments on the likely cost / financial implications of the proposed legislation? 

We are not in a position to make a comment about this.

Question 7 Do you have any other comments on the proposed draft legislation? Would you suggest any further amendments? 

We feel that the proposed amendment needs to be more detailed and the practicalities need to be worked out. We have no doubt that as it progresses through the legislative process and particularly with committee stage that more, “meat will be put on the bones” but it is probably open to criticism at present because opponents will be able to latch on to this haziness. 

However can we commend Mr Paul Givan MLA for his desire to redress what is an injustice to those who hold to Biblical morality. We wish him well in his desire to advance this amendment and will be praying to the end that it will succeed.

Yours faithfully,
Rev Raymond Robinson
Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster Government and Morals Committee 

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