Christian Discrimination


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    A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
    Matthew 7:17


    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, in the third millennium, females are not 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 other beliefs. 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 principles”*. Nevertheless, 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.

    Christians in the USA frequently demand the right to put up Christian monuments on public property, and are then outraged to find that, under the Constitution, members of other religions must be accorded similar rights. This particular example comes from state Capitol of Oklahoma in 2014 (legal case still outstanding at the time of writing)

    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 atheists.

    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 developed World.

    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 and arbitrary"*.



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    §. Christian groups "plan job purge of unbelievers", The Times, 30 th August 2003.

    §. Peter Tatchell was prosecuted under this Act in 1998 for disrupting a sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury. See the New Humanist, vol. 114, No 4, December 1998.

    §. The Sunday Telegraph, 23 January 2005, p11, “Trust advertises "Catholics Only" holiday cottage”

    §. James Madison, Detached Memoranda, ca. 1817. For the full text see

    §. Here is the current Massachusetts law: “Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behaviour”. The General Laws Of Massachusetts, Part IV. Crimes, Punishments And Proceedings in Criminal Cases , Title I. Crimes And Punishments, Chapter 272. Crimes Against Chastity, Morality, Decency And Good Order, Chapter 272: Section 36. Blasphemy. See

    §. "Humanist Textbooks Banned on Religious Grounds", The Times Educational Supplement, 20 th March 1987.

    §. For a full account of this incident see

    §. For the case involving Judge Law see the Guardian, Thursday 29 April 2010, (article reproduced at


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