For when the Gentiles, which have
not the law, do by nature the things contained in the
law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.
In many countries Churches enjoy special exemptions from the
law of the land. In the past such exemptions placed churchmen
above the law in many respects immunity from civil prosecution,
freedom from taxation, exemption from military service, and
so on. In a reduced form these exemptions continue.
In Britain, clergymen are exempt from jury service. This means
that the rest of the population has to perform this civic duty
for them. Productive members of society are taken from their
jobs, sometimes for months, while clergymen are excused. Similarly,
the fact that Churches are still exempt from certain taxes means
that everyone else has to pay that much more. Blasphemy legislation
pleases fundamentalist Christians but deprives others of what
they regard as free speech, art and entertainment. State funding
of Christian schools means that good teachers are denied jobs
if they are not sufficiently devout, even if their subject has
no connection with religion. Again, the clergy (who once played
such a major fighting role in battle) now enjoy exemption from
conscription. In time of war others now have to take their places.
Exemption from planning permission legislation allows the Church
to put up buildings that others find offensive and to demolish
buildings that would otherwise be protected. The law also enables
Churches to indulge in unfair commercial competition. In the
past European missionaries were provided with diplomatic passports.
Special provisions in immigration laws still allow Christian
priests and ministers to enter and live in countries where they
would otherwise be ineligible to do so. In the House of Lords
the Bench of Bishops continue a long tradition of using their
votes to frustrate reform. At the time of writing the bishops
have lead the opposition to an Equality Bill in Britain, retaining
for themselves and other religious organisations an enhanced
right to discriminate against homosexuals and others, even though
their existing ability to discriminate is already in contravention
of European directives*.
the USA, various legal exemptions and rights have been extended
to Christian Churches. In a case in 1988 it was decided that
preachers in California enjoyed special privileges. In March
of that year the state's Supreme Court confirmed that preachers
should enjoy protection from libel suits*.
The right of citizens to protect their good names from libel
now takes second place to the rights of religion. Christian
Scientists are protected by law when they withhold medical treatment
from children, even when the children die as a result. If atheists
behaved like Christian Scientists they would be charged with
homicide, or at least wilful negligence, but Christian Scientists
are given legal exemptions because of their religion. Many states
passed laws in the 1970s that absolved from guilt parents who
use "spiritual healing" for the treatment of their
children. There is thus a steady stream of cases where defendants
rely on these laws to avoid murder or manslaughter charges since,
predictably, seriously sick children often die without proper
In April 1986 a Christian Scientist couple, David and Ginger
Twitchel, watched for five days as their young son, Robin, sickened
and died. He was suffering from an intestinal twist, a condition
that could easily have been remedied by conventional medicine.
But conventional medical attention was denied to him. Instead
he died a painful death, vomiting his own faeces. One might
have thought that his parents (who had both previously taken
painkillers for their own minor ailments) should be imprisoned
for a very long time. Instead they were given a suspended sentence
and allowed to retain custody of their other children. Actually,
they were unlucky to have been convicted at all, since a Massachusetts
Law, steered through the legislature by Christian Scientists
in 1971, had attempted to enable people to rely on so-called
"spiritual healing" in such cases. In Massachusetts
medical insurers are required to pay for Christian Science practitioners
and nurses, and the Church and its practitioners are protected
from malpractice suits*.
In Indiana alone dozens of children have died because of Faith
Assembly practices, but the prosecutor is powerless to act because
of religious-immunity laws*.
The Church has won religious exemptions from basic health care
regulations in 48 of the 50 states*.
Sick people trusting in Christian faith healers are often discouraged
from seeking medical advice, again leading to predictable results.
In one case a woman suffered a heart attack while participating
in a spiritual healing, and was left to die*.
The healer was not prosecuted, as an atheist quack would have
been. Once again the mantle of Christian ministration conferred
immunity from the law.
The Christian lobby in the USA is sufficiently powerful to
have the law amended whenever it does not suit Christian ideas.
In the 1990s two Native Americans failed to persuade the Supreme
Court that the First Amendment to the Constitution protected
their religious right to smoke an hallucinogenic drug (peyote).
The court held that people's faith did not provide exemption
from the law. Christian leaders reacted to this decision since
it affected their own privileges. Under pressure from Christian
lobby groups, Congress passed the 1993 Religious Freedom
Restoration Act. This Act stated that officials (whether
city, state or federal) could not enforce a regulation if it
"substantially burdens a person's exercise of religion"
unless there was a "compelling government interest"
for doing so. A number of groups and individuals took advantage
of the Act to gain privileges on religious grounds. Convicted
criminals won the right to religious privileges such as special
meals and clothes, and the right to grow their hair. One devout
Christian has claimed that she is exempt from local laws, having
refused to let rooms to a homosexual couple on religious grounds.
In Boerne, Texas, the local council declined permission to demolish
a church building of historical interest, but the Roman Catholic
Church claimed that the council couldn"t restrain it. The
local archbishop, Patrick Flores, claimed that the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act over-rides the planning rules.
American sympathy for religious privilege extends beyond their
own shores. For example the Constitution imposed on Japan by
the USA after World War II made religious institutions free
from government interference. As a result religious organisations
pay no tax and are accountable only to themselves.
Since the Vatican is technically a sovereign state, it enjoys
all of the rights conferred by Diplomatic Immunity. It claims
these rights to the full. Using its diplomatic status the Vatican
has given favoured criminals sanctuary in its embassies around
the world*. For crimes
committed by its own clergy, the Roman Catholic Church can also
invoke Diplomatic Immunity to protect them. When Archbishop
Marcinkus was charged with serious crimes by the Italian authorities
in the 1980s, the Vatican refused to hand him over for trial,
claiming Diplomatic Immunity. Had he been brought to trial we
might now be a great deal wiser about major irregularities at
the Vatican Bank, and about a selection of other serious crimes,
including a number of murders*.
Under Pope John Paul II the Vatican increased the number of
countries where it has diplomatic representation from 85 to
174 so it seems likely that more crimes will go unpunished
in the future because of the cloak of diplomatic immunity.