Children should be protected from bigoted foster parents

Christian campaigners are ridiculously exaggerating their claims that they are being disadvantaged in this country, says the National Secular Society.

The comments were prompted by the case of Owen and Eunice Johns who have launched a High Court challenge to a decision by Derby Council to deny them work as foster parents after they told social workers they could not support the Council’s equality policy.

Mr & Mrs Johns said that their Christian beliefs precluded them from agreeing to tell any children in their care that homosexuality was acceptable.

The case has been taken up by the former Archbishop of Canterbury and two other Anglican bishops who claim that the case is another example of Christians being denied freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

But Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said the Bishops were over-stating their case and making themselves look foolish.

“Nobody is suggesting as they would have us believe that the court is to decide on whether Christians are fit people to adopt, or denying the Johns the right to disapprove of homosexuality and to make that disapproval known. They can be as bigoted as they like – that is their right.

“But what is at stake here is the Council policy that is aimed at protecting children. Suppose the Johns were to foster a child who was gay? What sort of reassurance could they give to such a child? And more importantly, what kind of damage could they do?

“The Council is absolutely right to refuse fostering to a couple with such extreme religious views. Social workers must always put the welfare and safety of the children first and not put them into an environment that is unbalanced in any way, whether that is in religious terms or any other. If anything untoward happened to children who the Council had placed in such homes, there would be a national outcry. That is why the rules are so stringent.”

Mr Sanderson said that the religious objectors were using the case to reinforce their self-created mythology that Christians in Britain are being persecuted.

“What in fact they are seeking is special privileges for Christians,” said Sanderson. “Lord Carey and his friends seem to think that people who say they are Christian should have a different, more advantageous, set of rules from everyone else.

“To claim that Christians will no longer be able to foster or adopt children if the Johns lose this case is a typical example of Lord Carey’s tendency to exaggeration. Of course Christians will still be able to do anything that anyone else can do – all they have to promise is that they will abide by the same laws and rules as everyone else. The Johns weren’t prepared to do that. They must now face the consequences. This case is about their individual decision, not an all-out attack on Christianity.”

The bishop's letter reads as follows:

SIR – On Monday the High Court is to be asked to rule on whether Christians are "fit people" to adopt or foster children – or whether they will be excluded, regardless of the needs of children, from doing so because of the requirements of homosexual rights.

The case involves Derby City Council and Eunice and Owen Johns, both highly experienced foster carers, but whose traditional Christian views have left them penalised under legislation enacted by the former government in the name of equality.

This "equality", however, privileges homosexual rights over those of others, even though the Office for National Statistics has subsequently shown homosexuals to be just one in 66 of the population.

In January 2007, the Johnses applied to Derby City Council to be respite carers for a single child aged five to 10 years old. However, in August 2007, their orthodox Christian views on the practice of homosexuality and their commitment to attending church with their children came to the notice of a social worker.

As a result, they were withdrawn from the process and deemed "unsuitable" to foster through the council.

The Johnses believe that the desperate shortage of foster carers, and the need for people like them to offer short-term respite care for parents in need of a rest, mean that denying Christians the opportunity to be carers will deeply affect children's welfare.

The Johnses are a loving Christian couple, who have in the past, and would in the future, give a stable home to a vulnerable child.

Research clearly establishes that children flourish best in a family with both a mother and father in a committed relationship.

A commitment to respecting conscience is the essence of civil liberty. The supporters of homosexual rights cannot be allowed to suppress all disagreement or disapproval and "coerce silence".

There is a "clash of rights", which the court must settle. If the court believes that those with traditional Christian views on homosexuality can be discriminated against, the state has taken a position on a moral question, namely that such religious belief is problematic.

However, despite the Sexual Orientation Regulations and the Equality Act, the courts are still able to establish jurisprudence.

We trust and pray that common sense and justice will be done.

Lord Carey of Clifton

Former Archbishop of Canterbury

Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt

Bishop of Winchester

Rt Revd Peter Forster

Bishop of Chester

Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali

Former Bishop of Rochester