No, Dr Saunders, religious freedom does not include the right to discriminate against others

Dr Peter Saunders, the CEO of the UK’s Christian Medical Fellowship (1), has written a blog post entitled ‘Three new worrying conscience cases – Christians must be prepared to pay the price for obeying God in the face of legal threats‘. Hmmm, I thought when I read this; I wonder if by any chance he’s including Kim Davis as one of the cases in question? He is indeed; not only that, but another of his three cases is a similar one:

The second case involved a French Muslim registrar who was sent to court for refusing to perform a same-sex marriage. The Marseille penal tribunal will render its judgment on 29 September. The maximum penalty for a registrar who illegally refuses to give access to a legal right is a 75,000-euro fine and 5 years’ imprisonment.

In the third case a Kentucky county clerk has already been jailed for refusing to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

These are, according to Dr Saunders, worrying cases of ‘people getting into trouble for exercising freedom of conscience’ and he leaves us no doubt about where he stands on the matter:

But Scripture is equally clear that if laws which discriminate against Christians are passed, and obeying such laws involves disobeying God, then there is a place for civil disobedience. In fact when we are forced to do something wrong it is a Christian duty.

And he goes on to provide us with an illustrious list of Biblical characters who provide us with shining examples of such noble behaviour; the Hebrew midwives refusing to kill babies, Rahab refusing to hand over innocents, Daniel fighting for his right to pray in the way he believed to be right, and so forth.

Of course, you may notice one other thing that all those people have in common; none of them were fighting for the continuance of an unjust state of affairs that was harming others.

Kim Davis, on the other hand, is fighting to prevent people who love each other from getting married. She is trying to return to the (very recent) days when gay couples who loved each other and wished to share the rest of their lives were not allowed to do so on the same terms as heterosexual couples. She wants to go back to the time when couples in love could be denied not only the joy of celebrating their commitment in a legally and socially recognised union, but the numerous and significant legal protections and benefits that were available only to married couples – and be denied these rights and protections solely on account of their sex. And, although I do realise that Kim Davis’s particular brand of religion is sadly bigoted enough to require that of her, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a law that hurt and disadvantaged a lot of people.  That’s the law Kim Davis wants to bring back, and that she’s working so hard to uphold.

The analogy here isn’t with Rahab or Daniel or the apostles. The analogy is with the bigots who, just a few decades ago, used their interpretation of the Bible as an excuse to uphold laws against interracial marriage.

Dr Saunders, you and others should indeed have the freedom to follow your religious convictions, and I will happily stand up alongside you and fight for that… right up to the point where your religion starts harming someone else. Your rights of religious freedom do not include the right to trample on the rights of others. That’s not ‘discrimination’ – that’s expecting you to follow exactly the same laws as everyone else, including the laws that say that you don’t get to discriminate against others.

And I would also like to add, as a non-Christian, that when you describe this sort of bigotry as ‘normal Christian behaviour’ and claim that laws for equality ‘discriminate against Christians’, you are not doing anything to convince other people that the God in whose name you act is loving, fair, or wise.


(1) In fairness to the CMF, I would like to point out that Dr Saunders wrote this article on his own blog, which is independent of the CMF; he was not acting in any official CMF-related capacity when he wrote this, and I do not know the stance of the CMF on this issue.


About Dr Sarah

I'm a GP with a husband and two young children.
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One Response to No, Dr Saunders, religious freedom does not include the right to discriminate against others

  1. Pingback: More on Sabrina Hout | Thoughts From An Atheist

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