A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil
The Church still holds on to vestiges of inequality, with no
evidence of embarrassment. For example, on the one hand modern
clergymen decry sexual discrimination in Britain, while their
Churches practice it, enjoying one of the few exemptions from
Equal Opportunities legislation. Similarly they acclaim Human
Rights legislation although their sole contribution to it was
to negotiate exemptions for themselves. Such concessions are
common around the world. European Community legislation upholds
the practices of Orthodox monks on the Mount Athos Peninsula.
Even today females are permitted to defile the peninsula by
their presence not even female animals.
In 2003 the European Union passed laws prohibiting discrimination
on religious grounds, making exceptions for organisations with
a religious ethos. The idea was to allow for jobs, such as Christian
priests, for which at least some Christian belief might be reasonably
expected in the less liberal Churches. Christian groups in the
UK immediately started planning ways to exploit this loophole
to encompass a wide range of jobs, from science teachers to
cleaners. All an organisation needed to do was draw up a suitable
document confirming its religious ethos, and it would be able
to dismiss non-Christians and replace them with Christians.
A number of Christian charities including the YMCA sponsored
a set of guidelines to allow schools and other organisations
to exploit the new legislation to weed out non-believers and
recruit believers while staying within the new law*.
Churches in Britain enjoy many special rights tax exemptions,
exemptions from civil duties, exemption from planning laws,
over-representation in Parliament, a separate court system,
and so on. Other laws are designed to protect Christianity.
Blasphemy laws protect Christian beliefs but not others. Section
2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of
1860 gives special powers to stifle dissent*.
Under this Act it is illegal publicly to contradict a Christian
preacher while it is not illegal to contradict a non-Christian
preacher, or any other orator. In 2005 the nation was astonished
to find that the National Trust was leasing a holiday cottage
(Lawes Cottage in Wiltshire) only to Roman Catholic tenants,
without breaking the law*.
The founding fathers of the USA were keen not to allow religion
any special place in the government of the country, as reflected
in the first and sixth amendments to the constitution. James
Madison, the author of these amendments, was against appointing
chaplains. Here for example is his view on constitutional chaplains;
“The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is
a palpable violation of equal rights as well as Constitutional
today Americans fund chaplains not only in the two Houses, but
elsewhere, for example in prisons and the armed forces.
This is not an anti-Christian poster
but a pro-Christian one. The intention is to portray Christian
hate crimes as attributable to biblical teachings - but
the conclusion is less obvious. Is this sufficient to
establish a reductio ad absurdam? Or does it mean that
biblical teachings breach modern laws?
Many aspects of American law favour religion in general and
Christianity in particular. For example the offence of blasphemy
still exists in some states. In Massachusetts it is illegal
to expose to ridicule “the holy word of God contained
in the holy scriptures”.*
A man called Ruggles was prosecuted in New York State for blasphemy
in 1810. He appealed on the grounds that there was no law of
blasphemy for him to be convicted under. The Chief Justice,
James Kent, stated that English common law was part of American
law. Since blasphemy was an English common law offence it carried
over to American law, and still does. It is thus legal in the
USA to revile atheism but not Christianity: the clearest possible
example of discrimination on religious grounds.
Religious discrimination takes other forms in the USA. Churches
are exempt from taxes. Church schools are funded from public
money. Religious pledges and songs are common in schools, despite
the provisions of the Constitution. Rationalist and scientific
books are commonly removed from library shelves at the behest
of Christian pressure groups. Humanists are prohibited by Christian-initiated
zoning laws from handing out literature door-to-door (as Christian
sects do). Pagans can be dismissed from their employment for
wearing jewellery (a gold pentagram say), but no Christian could
be dismissed for wearing a gold crucifix. Again, it has been
almost impossible to obtain exemption from military service
as a Conscientious Objector on purely philosophical grounds,
yet comparatively easy on religious grounds. When the US introduced
conscription for its military presence in Vietnam, the authorities
would not consider granting exemption without a supporting letter
from a priest or minister. This made it impossible for atheists
to gain exemption, even though studies consistently show atheists
to have a greater moral abhorrence of war than mainstream Christians.
Despite the secular federal constitution,
individual US states continue to discriminate against
Judges frequently make rulings that favour fundamentalist Christians.
One of the most curious was a judgement made by Judge Brevard
Hand, a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama. In a 1987 ruling,
described by the Washington Post as "profoundly
and irremediably wacko", he banned more than 40 school
textbooks because of their secular humanist content. A keen
Christian, he seems to have been under the impression that humanism
was some sort of rival religion*.
President George W. Bush probably spoke for many American Christians
when he famously declared in the same year ".... I don't
know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should
they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God."*.
In the USA, hardly anyone outside the atheist community bothered
to challenge him on this sentiment, though it scandalised the
Elsewhere the position is rather better. In early 2010 Christians
lost a series of legal cases in Britain where they sought special
privileges and excemptions for themselves. Despite the support
of an ex-Archbishop of Canterbury the plaintifs came off badly.
As Lord Justice Laws said, legislation to protect views held
purely on religious grounds could not be justified and it was
not only an irrational idea "but it is also divisive, capricious