Ethics,  Secularism

Religion, Identity, Conscience & Ethics

Lillian Smith

Here’s a case I’d like to canvass some opinion on. The woman above is facing a dilemma. She went with her partner, who is white, to be married in a civil ceremony by a registrar employed by her local council.

The problem was that the registrar was a deeply religious man and, while he was happy to marry two black people, or two white people, believed that inter-racial marriage was forbidden by the Bible. (I’d like to avoid a theological discussion about whether this is or isn’t the case, since it isn’t the point.)

Naturally, Ms Smith complained about discrimination, but the registrar argued that since there were other registrars in the employ of the council who were willing to conduct the marriage ceremony, Ms Smith and her partner were not being denied services. By recusing himself, he could keep his conscience clean, and they would still be able to get married (but by someone else) so everyone would get what they wanted and no damage would be done.

However, it didn’t end there. The council, his employers, said he should choose between his religious convictions and his job. They argued that all members of the public should expect to receive equal treatment and equal service from council employees. Also, some of his colleagues became unpleasant, and mutterings of ‘racist’ and ‘bigot’ caused him some distress.

Consequently, he went to an employment tribunal.

Today the tribunal ruled in his favour saying that if a work-around accommodation could be found – by getting another registrar with no religious objections to the ‘mixing of the races’ – then the council had a duty to balance his religious feelings with the expectations of equal access to service from members of the public, like Ms Smith. It regretted the distress he’d been caused as a result of the workplace fallout over his refusal to serve mix-race couples.

The registrar is now set to win a compensation payout of many thousands of Pounds.

So, what are your thoughts? Should deeply held religious beliefs be grounds for refusing to deal with some members of the public?

And this is not the only case. There is a very similar case here.