18 January 2011
Calls for changes in human rights law to protect individuals
The freedoms of religious believers should not be undermined by human rights law and must be given equal consideration in legal disputes such as the case of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, says the Evangelical Alliance.
The call comes as a judge has ruled that Christian couple Mr and Mrs Bull acted unlawfully in denying civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy a double room at their guesthouse in Cornwall.
Mr and Mrs Bull were ordered to pay the gay couple £3,600 in damages, as His Hon Judge Andrew Rutherford ruled at Bristol County Court on 17 January under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, civil partnerships must be treated in the same way as marriage.
Don Horrocks, head of public affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, said the human rights of the Christian couple had been sidelined.
"We regret that yet another case has resulted in the elevation of one human right against another and that religion and belief is considered to be of secondary 'equality'," he said. "It is beyond belief that an organisation that is supposed to defend freedom of expression - the Equality & Human Rights Commission - should welcome the judgment and claim that religious expression should be privatised. Human rights legislation is supposed to protect minorities and allow fair space to all rights."
Referring to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a publicly funded body that paid for the discrimination claim, Dr Horrocks said: "It is regrettable that conflicts of this nature have to be decided in court and the Commission bears huge responsibility for failing to deliver acceptable solutions for dealing with conflict through mediation and good relations rather than fuelling legal confrontation which ought to be a last resort.
"Pressure is now overwhelming from religious groups for human rights law to do what it is supposed to do and respect minority religious belief rights equally in practice. If the law, as it stands, isn't capable of doing the job then it must change."
Judge Rutherford has granted Mr and Mrs Bull leave to appeal, saying his ruling "does affect the human rights of the defendants to manifest their religion and forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs".
Dr Horrocks added that the judge's permission for the Bulls to appeal was "telling".
"He is effectively signalling that human rights law needs to face up to its current lack of fairness and inability to decide even-handedly in cases where rights clash. This applies particularly to religious conscience and practice in public life. "
The Bulls, backed by the Christian Institute, are considering whether to appeal against the decision.
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Notes to Editors
The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We’re here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK – we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org.