Religion, homophobia, Edinburgh City Council and the ECHR

The Edinburgh Evening News reports that a church is suing Edinburgh City Council over the right to host an American preacher who has described homosexuality as “not normal behaviour”. Destiny Church, which is based in Glasgow, had booked the Usher Hall for its three-day “Surge Conference” in June: one of the invited speakers was Larry Stockstill, from Louisiana, who had written in his 2007 book He Teaches My Hands to War, “Don’t be deceived. Homosexuality is not normal behavior and it is not accepted by God.” After complaints, the Council cancelled the booking in January.

Lindsays Solicitors, which is acting on behalf of the church, avers that the Council’s actions contravene UK equality law and the freedom of expression and freedom of religion provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. A representative of Destiny Church is quoted as saying:

“We understand that this is a fairly clear-cut breach of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the freedom of expression, enshrined in the ECHR. Under the Equality Act 2010, the City of Edinburgh Council is also discriminating on the grounds of religious belief. We organised an event, which we are free to do, at which speakers will express their religious views, as they are free to do. It is unlawful for the City of Edinburgh to cancel an event because it determines that the views previously expressed by a speaker are not acceptable.”

To which the Council responded as follows:

“The Destiny Church event at the Usher Hall was cancelled due to the keynote speaker’s publicly-stated views about same-sex relationships which are, in the council’s opinion, offensive and discriminatory. We are committed to promoting diversity and equal rights for all. The proposed event did not meet the standards which we expect from those hiring and visiting our venues to respect and observe and the booking was therefore cancelled. The Council is mindful of the need to protect freedom of speech but will not allow its venues to be used as a platform for speakers who discriminate against particular sections of society. The Council will vigorously defend its position in order to protect and promote diversity and equal rights for all.”

Comment

The dispute looks like a classic case of “clashing rights”: the rights of the pursuers under Articles 9 & 10 ECHR to manifest their religion and freely to express their opinions, and the rights of the defenders not to have their premises used – possibly – to promote views which they regard as abhorrent.

Both Article 9(2) and Article 10(2) provide a saving for “the protection of the reputation or rights of others”, while Article 8 guarantees the right to respect for “private and family life, home and correspondence”. Given that same-sex relationships are not against the laws either of Scotland or of the rest of the UK, might the City Council be successful in arguing that by cancelling the booking it is seeking to protect the reputation and Article 8 rights of same-sex couples in its community? Watch this space.

[With thanks to BYU Law School’s Law and Religion Headlines.]

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Religion, homophobia, Edinburgh City Council and the ECHR" in Law & Religion UK, 26 March 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/03/26/religion-homophobia-edinburgh-city-council-and-the-echr/

8 thoughts on “Religion, homophobia, Edinburgh City Council and the ECHR

  1. The word ‘homophobia’ does not appear in the quoted statement of the city council above, only the words ‘offensive and discriminatory’. Has the council yet used that term? If not (or even if it has), it is perhaps premature to use it as an apparent descriptor in the title of the piece, at least without quotation marks?

  2. The response of the Council is a classic example of the hypocritical doublethink that now permeates public life in the UK ‘We are committed to diversity and equal rights for all’ and in the next breath preventing the expression of ‘diverse’ views with which it disagrees.

    In reality, the Council is not in favour of the expression of a diverse range of views merely the expression of views it agrees with. It is not in favour of equal rights for those with whom it disagrees.

    I’m not arguing for or against the views of Mr Stocksill merely that if we are a democracy he should have the right to express his views. The reality is that we as a society no longer believe in freedom of thought or of speech but we are too hypocritical to admit that even to ourselves

  3. “a classic case of ‘clashing rights’: the rights of the pursuers under Articles 9 & 10 ECHR to manifest their religion and freely to express their opinions, and the rights of the defenders not to have their premises used – possibly – to promote views which they regard as abhorrent”

    The second right is fictional, in the present case.

    If the church was suing a private company, perhaps the right to no-platform would exist, although this would be quite frightening if the private company was part of a like-minded oligopoly. But they are suing a public authority. A public authority ought not to regard Christian beliefs or doctrines (not “views” as you put it) as abhorrent.

    Nobody has a right to insist that others share their beliefs outwardly and refrain from mentioning any opposing beliefs they hold in public. If the court rules that this public authority was entitled to establish one set of beliefs and to discriminate against any and all who associate with persons with opposing beliefs, liberal democracy is dead.

    Secularism, one of the cornerstones of liberal democracy, isn’t electing councillors on the basis of their beliefs, in the hope that if they get a majority on the council, they will establish their beliefs as the official beliefs of the entire city and suppress all contrary beliefs.

    I consider that, properly understood, whatever else it may be, LGBT is a dogmatic belief system, a subculture, a cult, a faith, and easily the most intolerant of all with any large following in today’s society. The only reason for finding Christian doctrines that contradict LGBT doctrines “abhorrent”, is intolerance of dissidence. However, arguing that LGBT is dogmatic, isn’t necessary to win this claim. It is enough that the aim is to marginalise and silence Christianity. That isn’t one of the powers a local authority has, whoever is elected onto the council.

    The bossy council has a public sector equality duty to have due regard to foster good relations between Christians and others, and between those with LGBT beliefs that contradict Christian doctrine and others. That there is this lawsuit, and that the council took sides when lobbied by one faith community (LGBT) to discriminate against the other, is all the proof needed, that the council has acted without due regard to that need to foster good relations all round.

  4. If Edinburgh Council win this case then I would feel like Abraham Lincoln who after the infamous Dredd Scott case said

    ” I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

  5. Although I profoundly disagree with the views of the invited speaker (but not his right to have expressed them in 2007) I think the council is utterly wrong. Let’s see what the ECHR thinks!

  6. If it ever gets that far. It’s got a long way to go through the domestic courts before it can get anywhere near Strasbourg.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.