Views from the News

Equality Commission sorry for Christian ‘infection’ jibe

The Government’s equality agency has said sorry for a sneering remark that implied Christian moral values are like an ‘infection’ that could harm children. The taxpayer-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission had warned that children could be ‘infected’ by the moral views of Christian foster parents who oppose homosexual behaviour.

The extraordinary remark was published in legal paperwork prepared by Karon Monaghan QC for a court case involving a Christian couple struggling to be approved as foster parents. But the Commission has now issued an apology. It also attempted to distance itself from the suggestion that sexual orientation rights take precedence over religious rights.

The offensive remarks related to a court case involving Eunice and Owen Johns, who say they have been effectively blocked by Derby City Council from fostering because of their Christian beliefs about homosexual behaviour. A statement was published on the Equality Commission’s website. It read, ‘Earlier this week the case of Johns v. Derby City Council, in which the Commission had intervened, attracted some attention. Unfortunately a mistake within our legal submission led to an inference that we did not intend and which was misconstrued as suggesting that the Commission equates Christian moral views with an infection. This oversight was caused by a drafting error in our submissions to the court. This should have been picked up in our internal clearance process for the legal documentation and does not represent the position of the Commission in any way. Furthermore, the Commission entirely rejects any view (as reported in the media) that rights in relation to sexual orientation take precedence over religious rights. The Commission fully upholds the rights of looked-after children to be supported in their chosen religion or that of their family, in the context of the paramount importance of the welfare of the child. The Equality Act provides protection against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief as well as on the grounds of sexual orientation and the Commission has produced extensive guidance to explain this legislation, which was introduced by Parliament’.

A scientist’s doubts about evolution don’t curtail his ability as an astronomer

Dr. Martin Gaskell is a respected expert on supermassive black holes and a long-serving research fellow at the University of Texas. In 2007, he applied for the position of director at the new MacAdam Student Observatory at the University of Kentucky. He stood ‘breathtakingly above the other applicants in background and experience’, according to the chairman of the selection panel, but he did not get the job. Unsurprisingly, he sued.

It is not controversial to state that English-born Gaskell is a devout Christian. He has also said that he is sceptical about certain aspects of evolutionary theory and that he respects creationists for being true to the Bible. However, his own views have more nuance and he probably belongs somewhere in the broad church usually labelled ‘theistic evolution’. But the mere fact he was sympathetic towards creationists and kept an open mind about evolution appears to have disqualified him from being director of the Observatory. As the chairman of the selection committee emailed afterwards, ‘No objective observer could possibly believe that we excluded Martin on any basis other than religion’.

The case was about to go to trial. But, last month, the university caved in and settled out of court. Gaskell was given a payoff of although the university refused to admit any wrong-doing. Nonetheless, this appears to be an unambiguous example of religious discrimination within the American academy. It is hard to imagine the university would have settled if they were sure of their ground.

The case has given rise to a certain amount of hand-wringing in anti-creationist circles. Clearly, Gaskell’s doubts about evolution have not curtailed his ability as an astronomer. His achievements in the field tell us that much. But his religious faith has been enough for some to doubt his ability as a scientist. Professor Lawrence Krauss, physicist and neo-atheist sympathiser, writes in the New Scientist that doubting evolution should have disqualified Gaskell because it showed he had a ‘lack of understanding of the nature of scientific theory’. Richard Dawkins called the university’s decision to capitulate ‘a farce’.