HUMAN RIGHTS by Terri M. KelleherNews Weekly
Re-establishing the right to freedom of religion and conscience
, March 28, 2015
The 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council is being asked to rule that nations should respect treaties that call for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in the medical profession (OneNewsNow.com, March 12, 2015).
ADF International, a non-profit legal organisation that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith, with the group Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, will urge the UN Human Rights Council and the international community at large to confront the lack of protections for freedom of conscience in several European countries.
Although this fundamental human right is protected under international and European human rights law, a growing legal trend — particularly affecting the medical profession — is to override it. As a result, doctors, nurses and midwives are being fired for refusing to perform or participate in abortion procedures.
At a parallel event — Freedom of Conscience in Europe and its Protection under International Law — presenters included Mrs Ellinor Grimmark, a Swedish midwife, who is fighting the loss of her job because of her conscientious objection to being involved in abortions, and her lawyer, Mrs Ruth Nordström (LLB), president of the group, Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers.
Mrs Nordström recently said: “Sweden has failed to develop a comprehensive and clear regulation that defines and regulates conscientious objection at the workplace, in particular for healthcare providers.… Swedish medical workers are being reprimanded, repositioned, fired and put at a disadvantage in other ways as well. Their freedoms under international treaties are being violated” (LifeNews.com, March 11, 2015).
Another hopeful development is the Global Religious Freedom Summit to be held on March 19 at Baylor University in Texas. Hosted by Baylor China Aid, it will discuss the plight of those facing religious persecution around the world.
Senators in the U.S. state of Georgia have approved a bill to give better protection for freedom of conscience. The legislation would stop the state government encroaching upon a person’s religious beliefs unless it could prove it had a “compelling interest”. The bill would strengthen rights for people of all faiths.
Politicians in North Carolina have approved legislation allowing officials to decline to carry out duties relating to same-sex marriage. Marriage was redefined in the state last October. By November at least six judges had stepped down from their positions, saying that conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies would contravene their religious beliefs.
The North Carolina Senate has now approved a bill that prevents legal action being taken against listed public officials who refuse to perform marriage ceremonies on the basis of “sincerely held religious objections” (The Christian Institute, UK, March 9, 2015).
In Northern Ireland there are plans for a bill to introduce a conscience clause to amend equality legislation in order to make reasonable accommodation for people with sincere and deeply-held religious beliefs.
The Roman Catholic Church has lent its support to the principle behind the bill, which is being introduced in light of the Ashers Baking Company case, involving a Christian family facing court for refusing to provide a cake for a political campaign in favour of sex marriage. Lawyers for the bakery deny that they breached any laws, but a conscience clause would help to prevent similar cases being brought in the future against people with firmly-held religious views.
Dr Noël Treanor, the Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Down and Connor in Northern Ireland, recently said: “Our laws as they stand are having an unjust and disproportionate impact on those of religious faith.
“Is it just to have a situation where one group of people are told ‘you are out’ of a particular business or ‘you need not apply’ for a particular job or that ‘you may not apply for public funds’, simply because they hold the perfectly rational belief that marriage is between a woman and a man and that sexual relationships are reserved in their dignity and purpose for this form of married relationship?
“The truth is that such prejudice and discrimination against any other category of people in our society would not be tolerated, and public representatives have a responsibility to ensure that discrimination against those with perfectly rational religious views will not be tolerated either” (The Christian Institute, UK, February 25, 2015).
These are all very hopeful developments. But still the attack on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion and belief goes on.
In San Francisco, members of the city’s legislature have called for an investigation of the archdiocese’s updated faculty guide for its Catholic high schools, contending that it is divisive in requiring staff members to support — or at least not publicly attack — the church’s teachings on grave moral issues such as masturbation, pornography, same-sex marriage and contraception.
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco has come under fire for defending the archdiocese’s position. But, as he asked his adversaries: “Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and (your party)?
“I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission. I simply ask the same respect from you.”
Similar coercion of faith-based schools is occurring across the U.S. In New England, a Christian school, Gordon College, has been given a year to review its conduct standards which ask all members to live by the Christian virtue of chastity. The implication is that the college is at risk of losing its accreditation if it does not repeal this requirement.
Notre Dame University and Wheaton College are challenging the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that forces faith-based schools to provide and pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilisation, regardless of their deeply-held religious beliefs — or else incur large fines.
In Washington DC, the City Council’s Human Rights Amendment Act will, if passed, compel the city’s private religious schools to violate their beliefs about human sexuality by recognising LGBT student groups or hosting a “gay pride” day on campus.
In the Australian state of Victoria, section 8 of the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 forces health practitioners with a conscientious objection to refer for abortions, and the new Daniel Andrews Labor government is promising to legalise same-sex adoption.
When same-sex adoption laws were passed in Britain a few years ago, Catholic adoption agencies were forced to close; otherwise they would have been legally obliged, against their conscience, to place babies with same-sex couples.
In the modern secular state it is more important than ever, on grounds of social cohesion and peaceful co-existence, and also of justice in respecting citizens’ deeply-held beliefs, that freedom of religion, thought, belief and conscience be protected by law.
Terri M. Kelleher is Victorian state president of the Australian Family Association.
Charlie Butts, “Europe’s ‘freedom of conscience’ debate gets UN hearing”, OneNewsNow.com (American Family News Network), March 12, 2015.
“Pro-life group tells UN: Forcing nurses to assist abortions violates international law”, LifeNews.com, March 11, 2015.
“Georgia backs freedom of conscience bill”, The Christian Institute (UK), March 9, 2015.
“RC Church backs NI conscience clause”, The Christian Institute (UK), February 25, 2015.