A senior High Court judge is set to retire early, partly because of the lack of support from some of his colleagues for his pro-marriage beliefs. Sir Paul Coleridge says there are ‘hundreds’ in the judiciary who agree with him in private, but are too frightened to say so publicly. The judge set up the Marriage Foundation in 2012 to combat the culture of broken families. He was attacked for his involvement, with critics saying a sitting judge should not be so overtly ‘political’, but the Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC) dismissed complaints against him and allowed him to continue in his role with the Foundation.
Now, in an interview for the Roman Catholic paper The Tablet, he says he will take early retirement so that he will have more freedom to speak his mind. He said he ‘could have struggled on’ if he had got ‘more solid support’. He added, ‘But after April, I will be freer to be outspoken’. Sir Paul announced in October that he will retire from the bench next year in order to focus on his work with the Marriage Foundation. Last December he said the Government was pushing the ‘wrong policy’ with gay marriage, and should be concentrating on combating family breakdown. He said same-sex marriage was a ‘minority issue’ and that ‘so much energy and time has been put into this debate for 0.1 per cent of the population, when we have a crisis of family breakdown’. Last year, Sir Paul was told to keep a ‘lower profile’ by the Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC) over his role as chairman and founder of the Marriage Foundation.
The OJC did not consider his involvement with the charity to be ‘incompatible with his judicial responsibilities’ but said a lower profile role within the organization would be ‘more appropriate for a serving judicial office holder’. The investigation followed a complaint which media reports suggested related to comments the judge made at the launch of the charity.
The Court of Appeal in London has legally recognized the right of Christians to observe Sunday as a day of rest. The court was ruling on the case of Celestina Mba, a 38-year-old care worker from Merton, south west London, who was forced to leave her job when she refused to work on Sunday for religious reasons. An employment tribunal had previously argued that because not all Christians observe Sunday as a day of rest, it could not be considered a ‘core component’ of the Christian faith. However, the Court of Appeal rejected this notion, arguing that Sunday observance is an important part of the worship and practices of many millions of Christians, and cannot therefore be simply dismissed.
Employers have a responsibility to be conscientious and to work to find a balance between their business needs and an employee’s religious obligations, the court judged. Had this judgement gone differently, Christians who objected to working on Sundays in the future could have found themselves without a legal defence. Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and director of the Christian Legal Centre, said, ‘At last the courts are beginning to demonstrate greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Christian identity extends beyond private belief into daily life. We pray that the tide is turning. Many Christians will now be able to argue that their employer must respect their rights of Sabbath worship’.
Douglas Alexander, a senior frontbencher, suggested that public figures have allowed ‘political correctness’ to prevent them talking about faith and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. In a thinly-veiled attack on the Tony Blair era, when Alastair Campbell, the then communications director in Downing Street, said, ‘We don’t do God’, Mr Alexander warned that people should have the courage to speak up for Christians without fear of causing offence. Mr Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, spoke out to voice his concerns about growing harassment and attacks suffered by Christians in the Middle East.
‘Across the world, there will be Christians this week for whom attending a church service this Christmas is not an act of faithful witness, but an act of life-risking bravery. That cannot be right and we need the courage to say so’, Mr Alexander says.
‘In the UK today, perhaps through a misplaced sense of political correctness, or some sense of embarrassment at ‘doing God’ in an age when secularism is more common, too many politicians seem to fear discussing any matters related to faith’. He adds: ‘People of all faiths and none should be horrified by this persecution. We cannot, and we must not, stand by on the other side in silence for fear of offence’. Mr Alexander says persecution of Christians should be treated in the same way as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.
His intervention comes after the Prince of Wales said he had become ‘deeply troubled’ by the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
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