Is Britain clamping down on freedom of conscience? The latest case involving a clash of religious values vs secular culture is the subject of my blog today for the Daily Telegraph (reprinted here in full). It focuses on the experience of two midwives forced to assist in abortion procedures, despite their pleading that this went against their religious beliefs.
The two women – both midwifery sisters at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow – claim the experience traumatised them and are taking the health authority to court, claiming that it had ignored their conscientious objections and thus infringed Article 9 of the European Law of Human Rights.
This case could set an important precedent: if a boss can overrule an employee’s conscientious objections, Catholic (and those of some other denominations and faiths) doctors, nurses and midwives would have to leave their profession. They would otherwise be forced to assist with suicide, or carry out terminations. They would have to pay lip service to a health authority that views a foetus’s disability as grounds for abortion.
Beyond the health sector, the believer would have to swallow their convictions regarding gay marriages in church; or - as has already taken place - regarding gay adoption. To do otherwise would put their jobs on the line. In other words, millions of faithful Christians Muslims and Jews would have to choose between earning a living and their deep-felt belief. This seems extraordinary, especially given the outrage so many Britons express about the restrictions on religious freedom that Islamist extremists are putting in place all over the Middle East.
Freedom of conscience is not just for export. If we force midwives to assist a termination against their conscience, we cannot wag our finger at the Iranians who want to execute a Muslim for converting to Christianity.
Religious extremists abroad will not take seriously any intervention from Britain’s authorities, when this country’s record on religious freedom is so dismal. Religious moderates in these countries will be all the more vulnerable.