British court says Christian couple can't be foster parents due to beliefs

Eunice and Owen Johns CNA World Catholic News 3 1 11 Eunice and Owen Johns

On Feb. 28, two British judges ruled that a Christian couple can no longer participate in the foster care of children, because of their conviction that a homosexual lifestyle is immoral.

Eunice and Owen Johns, aged 62 and 65, are Pentecostal Christians from the city of Derby and have cared for 15 foster children in the past. Following the ruling, Eunice Johns said she and her husband were “extremely distressed” at the ruling handed down in Nottingham Crown Court.

“All we wanted to do was to offer a loving home to a child in need,” Eunice Johns said. “We have a good track record as foster parents, but because we are Christians with mainstream views on sexual ethics, we are apparently unsuitable as foster parents.”

“The judges have suggested that our views might harm children. We have been told by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that our moral views may ‘infect’ a child. We do not believe that this is so.”

Two senior members of Nottingham's family court, Lord Justice Munby and Mr. Justice Beatson, heard the case. Supporters and opponents of the Johns agreed it was a landmark moment for British society, and could set a legal precedent for future cases involving the controversial Sexual Orientation Regulations and the 2010 “Equality Act.”

In their ruling, Justices Munby and Beatson interpreted the non-discrimination provisions of those laws as applying to the relationship between parents and foster children. They implied that placing children with Christians who hold traditional beliefs could lead to “a conflict with the local authority's duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked-after children.”

The court acknowledged the implicit conflict between the Sexual Orientation Regulations on the one hand, and laws intended to prevent religious discrimination on the other. But the justices held that in cases of foster care, “the equality provisions concerning sexual orientation should take precedence” over the religious liberty of foster parents.

Elsewhere, the ruling held that government authorities can require individuals to demonstrate a positive attitude toward homosexual inclinations and behavior. The judges also concluded that the Johns had not been the victims of religious discrimination as such, because they were being excluded due to their ethical beliefs – and not, in the eyes of the judges, because of their Christian beliefs.

Justices Munby and Beatson also stated that Article 9 of the European Human Rights Act provides a “'qualified' right to manifest religious belief,” particularly in cases of beliefs “inimical to the interests of children.”

Andrea Williams, director of the U.K.-based Christian Legal Centre, noted that Eunice and Owen Johns had “effectively been told by British Judges that their views may harm children.”

The Nottingham judges prefaced their ruling by reasserting what they described as “the obvious point” that Britain is “a secular state, not a theocracy.” They wrote that “reliance on religious belief – however conscientious the belief, and however, ancient and respectable the religion – can never of itself immunize the believer from the reach of the secular law.”

Williams, however, pointed to a disturbing trend in recent British legislation and rulings.

“The law has been increasingly interpreted by Judges in a way which favours homosexual rights over freedom of conscience,” she noted. “Significant areas of public life are now becoming out of bounds to Christians who do not want to compromise their beliefs.

“If Christian morals are harmful to children and unacceptable to the State,” she asked, “then how many years do we have before natural children start being taken away from Christians?”

Britain's Sexual Orientation Regulations have been a source of controversy in the past. The regulations forced the closure of all of England's Catholic adoption agencies, after a commission ruled that they could not turn away homosexual couples from adopting children. Catholic Care, the last agency to close, was forced to shut down in August 2010.

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