07 April 2007

Freethinking

I put the following work under your protection. It contains my opinion upon religion. You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.

The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.

Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

We do not consider that the right to freedom of conscience and religion requires the school curriculum to be exempted from the scope of the sexual orientation regulations. In our view the Regulations prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination should clearly apply to the curriculum, so that homosexual pupils are not subjected to teaching, as part of the religious education or other curriculum, that their sexual orientation is sinful or morally wrong. Applying the Regulations to the curriculum would not prevent pupils from being taught as part of their religious education the fact that certain religions view homosexuality as sinful. In our view there is an important difference between this factual information being imparted in a descriptive way as part of a wide-ranging syllabus about different religions, and a curriculum which teaches a particular religion's doctrinal beliefs as if they were objectively true. The latter is likely to lead to unjustifiable discrimination against homosexual pupils. We recommend that the Regulations for Great Britain make clear that the prohibition on discrimination applies to the curriculum and thereby avoid the considerable uncertainty to which the Northern Ireland Regulations have given rise on this question. We further recommend that the Government clarifies its understanding of the Northern Ireland Regulations on this matter.

House of Lords / House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights, Sixth Report

Note that the position taken by parliament towards the theory that homosexuality is sinful is identical to that taken by the authorities of the church towards the Copernican theory as expressed by Galileo. He was permitted to believe that the Earth went round the Sun, and he was permitted to teach his model of the movements of celestial bodies. He was merely prohibited, like the church schools of the UK, from teaching that the things he believed were actually true.

Of course, the fundamental problem is that once you accept the principle of anti-discrimination laws, which nearly everyone now does, there is no logical justification for the retention of any individual autonomy whatsoever. After all, there is no logical distinction between a customer who prefers to buy clothes from shops owned and run by people of her own race, and a landlord who puts "No blacks" in his window.

The only sane argument for any anti-discrimination law is that there are some groups who are so vulnerable that they require special protection. I think it is on that basis that such laws are widely tolerated. However, that rationale is never stated, and instead the nonsensical theory is put forward that all "discrimination" based on group characteristics is wrong, and worthy of being banned.

For the record, I agree with Galileo, and disagree with the anti-homosexual position of certain church schools. But that is by the way. Like Paine, I believe that reason is the appropriate weapon against errors, and that The Human Rights Act 1998 is not.

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