Senior figures in the Church of England are forcing an unprecedented showdown with the judiciary over an allegation that some of the country’s most senior judges are prejudiced against Christianity.
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and other church leaders will urge senior judges to stand down from future Court of Appeal hearings because of “disturbing” and “dangerous” rulings they issued in recent religious discrimination cases.
Senior churchmen do not think they have any chance of a “fair” ruling if the latest significant hearing – due on Thursday – is heard in front of those judges who, they argue, have already shown a lack of understanding of Christian beliefs.
Critics are particularly alarmed by a ruling by Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, on behalf of the Court of Appeal, that Lillian Ladele, a registrar who refused to conduct civil partnerships ceremonies – because they were against her Christian beliefs – broke the law.
The Court of Appeal decided in December that the right to express a strong Christian faith must take second place to the rights of homosexuals under Labour’s equality laws.
Lord Carey and others will this week support a formal application by lawyers acting for Gary McFarlane, a Christian relationship counsellor, that a specialist panel of five judges with a proven understanding of religious issues and headed by Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, should be established to hear his case and future cases involving religious rights.
Mr McFarlane, 48, from Bristol, is appealing against an employment tribunal ruling that supported his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.
The BHA was quick to denounce these calls, this morning, saying “There must be no privilege for Christians before the law.”