Writer Tries (and Fails) to Find Analogous Situation to Christian Woman Who Claimed Her Rights Were Violated

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a EU court decision, upholding rulings against three Christians who had been sacked for basically choosing their faith over what was expected of them by their employer. The specifics of each case are a little more barbed than that, but you can read the original piece to get a fuller picture. 

Since then Mike Judge, the Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, has written two articles for the Huffington Post UK defending each victim and attacking the court’s ruling as well as the media and public response to it.

First off it is worth pointing out that of course Judge is going to be taking sides, given his position. He works for a group who, in some of the cases, provided legal assistance and regularly issued press releases in their defense. So, having made clear Judge’s inherent bias, he’s written a piece that is well worth a read.

The first half of the article is actually a spoof, but you don’t realize this until half way through when he admits to the rouse. The basic premise is to take the case of Lillian Ladele and change all the details but keep the facts. (In case you don’t remember, Ladele was a public registrar responsible for officiating marriages and civil partnerships. She claimed these duties violated her Christian conscience.)

So, in Judge’s article, instead of a council registrar, it’s a teacher; instead of a Christian conscientiousness objection, it’s an atheist objection.

Lillian Ladele (via 24dash.com)

In the story, an atheist school teacher loses his job after refusing to conduct a religious assembly in the state school in which he teaches. In the UK this could be possible, given that there is legal requirement for religious eduction in all state schools, and I’m sure there are a great many atheist teachers in schools across the country. I’m sure there are people out there who would be outraged at the thought of an atheist losing his job in such circumstances. Judge does this to show to good effect that the very fact that Lillian is Christian changes people’s perception of the case. His central point is one which I think is very important and that I think people can too often lose sight of. Just because you don’t agree with someone else’s viewpoint shouldn’t mean that he should automatically lose his job. Even though I don’t agree with Ladele’s views on homosexuality and gay marriage, I respect her right to hold those views. So long as she doesn’t impose them on other people.

Sadly, that is where it all falls apart. The non-equivalence of his thought experiment just doesn’t hold up to any basic logic.

There are legal exemptions for teachers in such circumstances as the hypothetical atheist’s, and in most cases it is never even an issue. There is no such exemption in Ladele’s case. In reality, a lot of teachers who do not wish to organize an assembly for any reason whatsoever, including the classic “I don’t like talking to large groups of people,” do not have to do so. After all, a Muslim teacher is going to be much better equipped to hold an Islamic themed assembly over someone who isn’t, so the head teacher is going to make an obvious choice. The most critical difference however is that holding assemblies is NOT the core of a teacher’s job — teaching in a classroom is. Ladele’s main role was to perform marriage ceremonies, a role she refused to perform for gay couples.

A more equivalent spoof would have talked about an atheist teacher who refused to teach math to Christian children.

These flaws are brilliantly pointed out in the comments section,

Angelaaaa responds with:

This is a clearly false equivalency. The school’s role is to educate children — it may ALSO provide a religious assembly. But whether it does or not, is no reflection on its central role as an institution of education. Being a civil registrar and registering civil unions is the central role of the registrar. It is not an ancillary function. It is ALL she does. A more honest comparison would be if the atheist teacher ONLY agreed to teach atheist students, indulged in a pick-and-choose as who she considered worthy of receiving the benefits of education. And fobbed the unworthy off on other teachers. So, we read this article in full. We jumped to no conclusions. We heard you out. Sadly, you have done little to dispel the suspicion that religious belief is often incompatible with logic and critical analysis.

Please accept a B for effort.

Mnene piles it on even further by adding:

Asking an atheist to directly engage in religious worship is not the same as asking someone who believes homosexuality is wrong to issue a marriage licence to a same sex couple. The former requires active participation in something which violates personal belief, the latter does not. For the comparison to be valid, Ladele would have to have been asked to have sex with or marry another woman, which she wasn’t. Clearly Ladele believes that not only should she personally not marry someone of the same gender, but that nobody else should be able to either. So yes I suppose in that respect her beliefs were trampled on, but only because they deserved to be. Furthermore I think it says a great deal about the strength of your arguments when you have to make things up to support them — though in retrospect I realise this is nothing new for religion.

So for the last time Mike; no, your delusion does not grant you exemption from the same rules that apply to everyone else. So stop asking.

Maybe the reason Judge had such a difficult time finding a truly analogous situation was because atheists don’t often complain about doing a job because it violates their beliefs when it really doesn’t. That seems to only be a Christian phenomenon.

About Mark Turner

Mark Turner was born and raised as a Catholic in the North East of England, UK. He attended two Catholic schools between the ages of five and sixteen. A product of a moderate Catholic upbringing and an early passion for science first resulted in religious apathy and by mid-teens outright disbelief.


  • ortcutt

    People like Judge need to stop projecting their sense of privilege onto us. I don’t think that being an atheist entitles anyone to exemption from performing the duties of one’s job. An analogous case would be an atheist who refused to perform weddings for different-sex couples because of her moral objection to discrimination against gay people. I would not object in the least if such an atheist were fired for failing to carry out the duties of her job. Christians demanding privileges don’t understand that we aren’t on the other side demanding privileges for atheists. Rather, we want no one to have special privileges that exempt them from the requirements of their jobs.

  • Rain

    It just sounds like another bureaucratic nightmare to me. We would have to have a whole “Department Of Keeping Track Of Things People Don’t Want To Do On Their Jobs”. We already have enough bureaucracy nightmares, thank you very much.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    This whole idea of someone’s religious beliefs freeing them from performing all the tasks of their job, which were well described when they were being hired, is not only ridiculous, it’s alarming.

    Public school science teachers who refuse to teach scientific theories that conflict with their own personal religious beliefs. Were they hired as science teachers, or as “science-that-is-not-in-conflict-with-Genesis teachers”?

    Pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control because they’re Catholic. Were they hired as pharmacists, or “Catholic pharmacists”?

    Doctors who refuse to save the life of a mother dying of complications of her pregnancy because again they’re Catholic. They hide behind the Catholicism of their hospital, and abandon their duty as doctors and has human beings.

    Emergency medical technicians and E.R. staff who let a transsexual woman die of her injuries after a car accident, because of their personal distaste for her, the roots of which are in their religion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyra_Hunter

    How far will this go? You might say that I’m building a fallacious “slippery slope” argument if I wonder if a Southern Baptist fireman would ever refuse to put out a fire at a mosque, and hopefully such lunacy will never occur, but it’s just a stark illustration of the ethical flaw in allowing religious exemptions for fulfilling the essential duties of one’s job.

    If your religion is going to interfere with any part of your job, get a different job instead of asking for special exceptions.

  • Old Fogey

    Actually I have some sympathy with the woman registrar. If you check the details of the case you find that she took the job quite some time ago, before civil partnerships were being considered in the UK. Thus her employers changed the nature of her work from that which she was originally employed to perform.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I understand your point, and I can sympathize for her only as a person struggling with adapting to change. We living things successfully adapt to changing environments or we go extinct. If the job changed and she is uncomfortable with the change, her adaptation should be to find some other work rather than ask to be paid in full for doing 2/3 of her job. I have had many jobs that added more duties that were not originally there when I started. When I just couldn’t do them all, I moved on rather than asking that I be allowed to not change with the times.

  • Baby_Raptor

    …Not exactly? Her job is to hand out civil union licenses to couples who ask for them. And do the necessary checks that come along with that. Nothing about her actual job was changed simply because the people who have access to marriage have changed. She just can’t stop projecting her bigotry.

  • ortcutt

    There was no agreement that Britain’s laws and regulations would remain completely static starting from the date of her employment. Change is part of the job description of any job. We can’t have a circumstance where people are grandfathered into not doing their jobs.

  • SphericalBunny

    I have no sympathy at all. It was never part of her job description to morally evaluate couples and it still wasn’t after gay couples gained legal recognition. You can bet she married straight couples who had anal sex, affairs, had previously had a divorce, had served jail time for who knows what, had kids out of wedlock, watched porn, etc, etc, etc. None of their sexual habits or their standards of morality were a damn thing to do with her, and she knew it; yet I bet she would object to a least a few of those things I’ve listed on religious grounds. Whether she decided this might be a great way to avoid some work, thought she could finally impose her religion on unwilling clients, or any other reason that would still be irrelevant; the nature of her job was to facilitate legal status for committed couples that were considered eligible by the government.

    The nature of her work didn’t really change at all.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

    In the U.K. that would be “Ministry” Of Keeping Track Of Things People Don’t Want To Do On Their Jobs

  • Keith Roragen

    If he had a valid point he could simply have made Ladele an atheist who refused to conduct ceremonies for Christians. He does not valid point.

  • Houndentenor

    I have no sympathy. I had to turn down a music job because they wanted someone who was a “spiritual leader” and not just there to do the music. That’s fine. After they explained the job I didn’t want it anyway. Some jobs come with things that you just don’t want to or can’t do. You don’t get to force a company to rewrite the job description to suit you. (They can, if they choose to, but aren’t obligated to do so.) There are countless examples of jobs people can’t or won’t do for moral or ethical reasons. I don’t know why religion is a special exception. And none of this has to do with your right to practice your own religion. It’s about you not being willing to do your job.

  • Rain

    Oh thank you. Yes, I should have remembered my Monty Python.

  • Bruce

    Is the Registrar’s job a secular job or a religious job? If it is secular (which it is) then she should keep her religious views out of it, or resign the job if she objects to the job. If the job were a religious job, then she should shut up and resign the job because the founder of her religion, St. Paul, told women to shut up publicly on religious topics. That’s a much more direct command of the bible than anything about being a registrar is. I think Paul’s views are reprehensible, so I don’t follow his teachings, although she claims to do so.

  • Kodie

    No they didn’t.

  • KeithCollyer

    there were no civil unions in the UK before the law changed, so when she took the job it wouldn’t have been an issue for her. She was right to take out the legal case, and the judgment was right. This was a case where the law was clarified by the case

  • Bigtitch

    Can we get one thing sorted out here please. Lillian Ladele was not asked to perform a marriage ceremony for a gay couple. She was never asked to marry a gay couple for the good and simple reason that the UK does not allow gay couples to marry. She was asked to officiate at civil partnerships – a purely legal matter from which all religious content was expressly excluded in the legislation that set them up.

  • fred

    As a registrar Ms Ladele has to do more than just marry people (in a secular way) she also has to register births and deaths. I notice she never refused to register babies born out of wedlock. Surely that conflicts with her Christian ideals just as much as marrying gay couples (or joining them in civil partnership) ? Apparently not though in her case, its just the gays that are the problem, but that’s a religious thing not bigotry