Court rules against Christian couple who claimed their beliefs on homosexuality should not prevent them becoming foster carers
A Pentecostal Christian couple have lost their high court claim that they were discriminated against by a local authority because they insisted on their right to tell young foster children that homosexuality is morally wrong.
Eunice and Owen Johns, who are in their sixties and have fostered children in the past, claimed they were being discriminated against by Derby city council because of their Christian beliefs, after they told a social worker they could not tell a child a “homosexual lifestyle” was acceptable. The couple had hoped to foster five- to 10-year-olds.
The case was the latest to be brought by conservative evangelicals, led by the Christian Legal Centre, over their supporters’ right to discriminate specifically against gay people and not be bound by equality regulations. All the cases have so far been lost.
In a sharply worded judgment, Lord Justice Munby and Justice Beatson dismissed the couple’s lawyer’s claims as “a travesty of reality”.
“No one is asserting that Christians (or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims) are not ‘fit and proper’ persons to foster or adopt. No one is seeking to de-legitimise Christianity or any other faith or belief. On the contrary, it is fundamental to our law and our way of life that everyone is equal before the law and equal as a human being … entitled to dignity and respect. We are, however, entitled to take judicial notice of the fact that, whereas the sharia is still understood in many places as making homosexuality a capital offence, … the Church of England permits its clergy, so long as they remain celibate, to enter into civil partnerships. We live in this country in a democratic and pluralistic society, in a secular state not a theocracy.”
Outside the court, Eunice Johns said: “We are extremely distressed at what the judges have ruled. All we wanted was to offer a loving home to a child in need, but because we are Christians with mainstream Christian views on sexual ethics, we are apparently unsuitable.
“We are prepared to love and accept any child. All we were not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing. We feel excluded and that there is no place for us in society.”
The CLC’s lawyer, Andrea Minichiello Williams, said: “How can judges get away with this? The law has been increasingly interpreted by judges in a way which favours homosexual rights over freedom of conscience. Britain is now leading Europe in intolerance to religious belief.”
The judges in their ruling said they were not ruling against beliefs but against the discriminatory effects of those beliefs and that one set of beliefs could not take precedence in a pluralist society.
Derby city council said it had never taken a view on the Johns’ application, adding: “It would be inappropriate for the council to approve foster carers who cannot meet minimum standards. It would be difficult and impractical to match children with Mr and Mrs Johns if they feel that strongly.”
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights’ charity Stonewall, said: “In any fostering case the interests of the 60,000 children in care should override the bias of any prospective parent. If you wish to be involved in the delivery of a public service you should be prepared to provide it fairly to anyone.”