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Are Christians being gagged?

THEOS has this interesting article. This is very a much a flavour of the month issue - Christians being persecuted and gagged because of their beliefs.

Personally, I have no problem at all with Christians expressing their Christian points of view in the public sphere.

I'd be interested to learn more about these cases. For often, on closer examination, they turn out to be a little different to the way they are initially presented. In this case, as in others, we have only heard one side of the story so far - it might yet turn out that the reasons for Mr Booker's suspension are not exactly as described. Here is an earlier example.


On 27 March 2009, David Booker was suspended from work for expressing his beliefs.

This is the latest in a series of incidents involving Christians taking their faith into the workplace.

Nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended for offering to pray with a patient (though she has now been reinstated). Council worker Duke Amachree was suspended for suggesting to a terminally ill woman that she could turn to God for comfort.

It could be argued that Petrie and Amachree were abusing their positions of authority and taking advantage of the vulnerability of clients in their care.

You can believe whatever you want in private, Christians are often told. It is when you try to impose those beliefs on others that there is a problem, particularly if you do it under the auspices of your secular employment.

David Booker’s case, though, is different in several key respects....
(article continues)


The thought police appear to have run amok on Mr. Booker.

He freely expressed his opinion that homosexuals should be the proper subject of discrimination. Ths comes right back to Stephen's point about the differential treatment of political and religious beliefs.

In my mind, Mr. Booker's case should be treated no differently than if he identified himself as a member of a political organization that believes homosexuality is abhorrent to nature and ought to be suppressed by means including discrimination in hiring. If Mr. Booker is allowed to profess this political belief in the workplace, he should be allowed to profess the same religious belief (i.e. the source of his belief, however irrational, should be irrelevant). If human rights legislation and/or his employer's rules preclude the dissemination of the political belief, what's good for the goose should be good for the gander.
Paul P. Mealing said…
I'm missing something here: I don't understand what the fuss is about. My interpretation is that he was involved in a private conversation in a public (work?) place, where his views on a controversial subject were apparently solicited. He gave his honest opinion, apparently, and now he's going to be sacked, is the impression I get. It doesn't make sense to me.

I think The Atheist Missionary is right, because I see this as a political opinion even if its politics is seen in a religious context by its proponent.

In other words, a political point of view based on religious convictions is still political, as we witness in politics (by some politicians at least) every day.

Regards, Paul.
anticant said…
Sounds like another case of an over-zealous PC person leading him on in an ostensibly "private" conversation at work, and then shopping him. Despicable. And was there a previous history of friction between these two?

I don't agree with his views, but really wonder what things are coming to if people can't express personal opinions at work without being disciplined. This was not a case of him trying to impose his views on a hostel inmate, which would have been obviously wrong.

By its very nature, religion is political. The notion that it can ever be a purely private matter is a delusion. All religious people naturally wish to sway society in their direction, just as all non-religious people do. Beliefs cannot be ring-fenced - they must take their chance in open debate.
wombat said…
It wasn't clear to me from the article what the reason for the suspension actually given by his employers was. Was it because of his opinion or because the expression of it (in public, whilst on duty as an employee, even if it was quietly in the canteen or similar) was contrary to the stated policy of the hostel, or was it because it was not what he told them at the job interview? No statement from the hostel itself seems in evidence.
georgesdelatour said…
This case seems to be more serious:
Jac said…
If the Telegraph's story contains all of the relavent information, then Booker should be reinstated. I don't blame the organization for suspending him, they probably have to take all accusations seriously and suspend the accused while conducting their investications. But I don't think the co-worker should have reported him if it was just a private conversation in which he offered to change the subject. That said, I'd like to hear the other side's account.
Jac said…
BTW, here's the link the the Telegraph story I mentioned.
M. Tully said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
M. Tully said…

Based on the evidence so far reported, should the guy lose his job?

Absolutely not!

You don't kill an idea by suppressing it, you kill it with a better idea. What the coworker should have done is pointed out to Mr. Booker that he is in fact a bigot (OMG, as soon as you say, "I'm not_____phobic. I have friends who are_____ ...). And then point out to him why he is a bigot and then discuss with other coworkers how much of a bigot he is.

If that seems harsh, I won't apologize. The freedom of ideas and speech have no bigger ally on earth than me. But the freedom of ideas and speech do NOT entail the freedom from ridicule of stupid ideas and speech.

Having said that I think the story is a bit overblown. Mr. Booker was not fired, only suspended WITH pay pending an investigation. As Stephen stated, we only have one side of the story and the course of action that the employer took may have been the best based on all of the evidence.

As an aside, I find it interesting that the religious "think tank" found it necessary to distort a story that would have been already been viewed as sympathetic toward their ends. From Theos:

"Thirdly, the discussion was instigated by the other party. Mr. Booker was responding to questions, not asking them or directing the line of thought."

Mr. Booker's account from the Telegraph:

"Mr. Booker, 44, a born-again Christian, said: "I was working nights with a colleague of mine and somehow we got on to the subject of Christianity – and then our discussion moved on to homosexuality in the church. I can't remember if I was the instigator [of the subjects] – or she was."

Why lie?

Finally, as a zealous supporter of the freedom of ideas and speech, I am curious, will the authors of the Theos article and other committed theists join me condemning all anti-blasphemy laws as well? Or are they really just interested in protecting their own freedom of ideas and speech?

I'll wait for theists' replies, I don't expect to get them (by the way, a google site search of reveals ZERO hits for, "condemn 'anti-blasphemy'").
theObserver said…
"It is understood that Mr Diamond is considering a legal claim either for discrimination – that Mr Booker has been singled out for disproportionate punishment – or harassment – that Mr Booker has been subjected to a "hostile work environment" against Christian values."

That strikes me as the worst possible grounds for legal action. "Hostile work enviroment against Christian values" is a can of worms.
Steven Carr said…
Apparently the Church of England will ban its own clergy if they express their faith in the policies of the British National Party.

Why should Christians be Banned by other Christians from expressing their political convictions, while the same church then accuses others of acting as 'thought-police'?
anticant said…
Because all these religions, churches, cults, sects, call them what you will, want one law for themselves and a different law for everybody else.

For them, what's sauce for the goose is never sauce for the gander.
Paul P. Mealing said…
In my experience, most people with religious views do keep them to themselves, which is what I expect from a secular society. A secular society doesn’t equate to an atheistic society, but many people talk as if it does.

I’m fundamentally against intolerance, and that includes intolerance to theists or atheist. I don’t agree with the premise that atheists are axiomatically intellectually superior to theists. This is one of Dawkins’ legacies that the world could well do without. We don’t need more intolerance in the current world.

Regards, Paul.
wombat said…
"atheists axiomatically intellectually superior"

Did Prof. Dawkins actually say this or is it something from either one his detractors or an over enthusiastic supporter?
anticant said…
Of course atheists are intellectually superior to theists - though not necessarily more intelligent - because they don't believe in the existence of gods, sky fairies, supernatural beings, or other external dictators of their consciences but are prepared to take personal responsibility for what they believe, think and do.
wombat said…
anticant - that may be so, but did the Prof really say it or people simply wish he had said it?
Paul P. Mealing said…
In response to Wombat: I don't believe he ever actually said it, and I made this specific comment when we discussed his book. But it's a subtext that runs through his rhetoric, as I said at the time it was discussed, and no one challenged me at the time. Also, he was actively involved in 'Brights', which says it all. So it is a legacy of Dawkins in my view.

Telling, or implying, that theists are fundamentally stupid is not very helpful or constructive. Someone made the same point in New Scientist when Dawkins was promoting 'Brights'.

There are many people who would be more supportive of Dawkins if he wasn't so alienating, and I'm not the first to say this. As I've said before: in his fight against religious fundamentalism I support him 100%, but in his fight against religion per se, I don't support him at all.

Anticant, you are entitled to this opinion, but I strongly disagree, and I don't believe it furthers anyone's cause. I firmly believe that people take responsibility for their own actions, but that doesn't make a theist an atheist; it just takes a belief in free will.

But what started this debate, is the idea that all religion is politics and that all religious people want to convert everyone to their religion, when the evidence does not support this (at least where I live). There are lots of religious people who couldn't give a fig what you believe. But perhaps the world you live in is different to mine.

Regards, Paul.
anticant said…
Paul, saying that all religion is political is not the same thing as saying that all religious people want to convert everyone to their religion, although that certainly seems to be the case with Muslims.
Kyle said…
There are lots of religious people who couldn't give a fig what you believe.Is that supposed to be a virtue?

I often hear people say things like "S/he is religious, but it's ok, s/he doesn't try to persuade others."

If you think someone else is wrong about something then shouldn't you try to persuade that person? Not persuade them at all costs, but in a reasonable way.

Otherwise, aren't we promoting a relativistic understanding of truth?
Paul P. Mealing said…
Hi Kyle,

Yes, I do think it's a virtue, because religion is not about objective truth - it's totally subjective in my view.

I guess the point I'm making is that a belief in God or not, is not a criterion that I consider important, either way.

Regards, Paul.
wombat said…
Paul P Mealing - "I don't believe he ever actually said it,"

I suspect that much of the "alienating", "strident", "abrasive" character of Dawkins, as described by his critics and sensationalist media people, is rather inflated in this way. It has a momentum and we are all at risk of swept along with it.
wombat said…
Slightly more on topic - is this another example of "Christians being gagged"?

Queen’s Trinity Cross honour deemed unlawful by Privy Council
Apparently "The Privy Council in London has ruled that the decoration is unconstitutional because it discriminates against non-Christians."

I struggle a little with this one, since (a) there is no suggestion that non-Christians are barred from receiving it. (b) the recipient is not actually compelled to wear it.
Maya said…
I guess we don't know enough about what really happened here to be able to judge the employer's actions at this point.

But the way Theos presents their argument is wierd and interesting and revealing.

They don't argue on general freedom of speech grounds, which I would agree with, but on some extremly dubious 'religion is special' grounds.

They haul out church schools and religious charities as the killer blows in their case for religious talk in the public sphere -- they claim that the charity Mr Booker works for is religiously motivated (which it isn't)...

It seems like the most amazing contortion in thinking.
Paul P. Mealing said…
Sorry Wombat,

I don't have to inflate what Dawkins says, I only have to read what he writes. He's deliberately provocative - that's his style. I notice that in person (like the interview Stephen linked in an earlier post) he has a different persona to the one he has in print.

Regards, Paul.
anticant said…
Paul, people become strident when they feel they are under attack and that their way of life is threatened. For the past decade, and especially since 9/11, people all over the world have become more fearful. I don't know who planned and carried out the Twin Towers business, but it was almost certainly not a bunch of young Muslims with a few box cutters. If it was meant to launch a "war on terror" which would be very profitable for some people and set us all at each others' throats, it was brilliantly successful.

This is my reading of the increased tension and stridency between people of different religions and none. Everyone is going back into their bunker.

How to reverse this trend is what we should all be thinking about.
Paul P. Mealing said…
Good point, Anticant. I've no argument with that.

Regards, Paul.

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