Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Something Doesn't Add Up
Eunice and Owen Johns are members of the Christian Pentecostal Church. Between August 1992 and January 1995 they were approved as short-term, respite, foster carers by Derby City Council. They last fostered a child in September 1993 when they did so for one month. In London's High Court on Monday it was their application, made in January 2007, which they wished clarified. Shortly before the case was to be heard the Equality and Human Rights Commission decided they wanted to take part.
I've no intention of going into the ecclesiastical issues of the case because they have been well covered here (do read the paragraph regarding 'secular' judges), but there are a few points which concern me.
Mr and Mrs Johns attend church services twice every Sunday. Part of Derby Social Services defence was that when asked about church activities Mrs Johns stated she felt she could not give up going to church. Nowadays I know few attend church services on Sundays - or any other days - but this ruling would appear to bar any church going person from fostering.
In paragraph  it's stated 'They are also recorded as telling Mrs Shaw [social worker] that they would not feel able to take a child to a mosque'. If they weren't Jewish they wouldn't be able to take a Jewish child to a synagogue, so the church service issue doesn't bear scrutiny.
The Johns' specifically wish to foster children up to the age of 10, so why are matters of sexuality relevant to such young children? Or is it being suggested they should be? With sex education now being a legal requirement in schools to children from the age of 5, it would seem the latter is the case and I foresee all future foster carers plus those applying to adopt, having to attend compulsory sex education training.
It was my belief that equality laws were supposed to uphold the rights to religious belief yet the High Court ruled that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation 'should take precedence' over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds. Why has it been left to judges to decide whose rights trump those of others when this should have been decided by the Westminster Parliament? Some say this is yet another sloppily drafted measure which will have far-reaching consequences for freedom of conscience in this country and I can't disagree.
Only last week Michael Gove announced reforms to the adoption regime which will remove barriers that plague the system. Currently there are 64,000 children in care in England and adoption rates are falling. Good foster carers are very valuable to our society - it's not a job I would consider. Years ago short-term foster carers and respite carers were greatly cherished because they were the people who would give love and tender care to a frightened child and often at very short notice.
It must be noted that Derby CC stated (although there was no evidence filed) that it 'has approved foster carers who are very committed Christians who hold to orthodox beliefs - whatever that means - and devout Muslim carers who are similarly committed to their religion, but who in both instances are able to value diversity notwithstanding their strongly held religious beliefs...' 
It is my understanding that the Jewish and Muslim faith do not accept homosexuality, so how do Derby CC manage to recruit Muslim foster carers? Are Muslim foster carers asked to care only for Muslim children? If so that's surely discrimination.
As far as I'm aware sexuality is not defined by religion any more than the colour of our eyes or hair so why must the two be intertwined unless by individual choice?
The Court judgement appears to criticise the legal submissions, particularly that submitted by Mr and Mrs Johns' lawyer Paul Diamond. Even so, something doesn't add up. Is it because the more liberal we are said to have become, the more illiberal we have become?