(Morning Star News) – Battles over abortion and homosexuality can be white hot, with each side accusing the other of hate-speech and discrimination, but European Christians say merely stating their beliefs or acting in accordance with them has led to hatred and hostility.
Often fought on battlefields where a “post-Christian” mindset is presupposed, European culture wars can produce Christian casualties ranging from threatening vitriol to loss of livelihood.
Paul Coleman, Vienna, Austria-based legal counsel for religious rights group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), told Morning Star News that Christians in Britain have been threatened or have lost jobs and/or business for supporting traditional marriage.
“Those who have voiced support for or upheld a traditional or religious view on sexual morality have been penalized in a number of different ways,” said Coleman, originally from the United Kingdom. “Last year Member of Parliament David Burrowes revealed that he had received hate mail and death threats for supporting marriage in parliament.”
Burrowes, founder and chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, has said also that his children have faced bullying at school because of his position, Coleman added.
In 2012 Archbishop of York John Sentamu received a number of abusive and threatening emails after stating that marriage should remain between a man and a woman, Coleman said. That same year, Christian newlyweds Rhys and Esther Curnow were bombarded with hate mail after submitting a petition to the prime minister in favor of traditional marriage.
“The couple received over 100 hate messages and were forced to contact police,” Coleman said.
The Telegraph reported that the couple from Newcastle, who posed on the steps of 10 Downing Street to hand in a 550,000-signature petition against gay marriage, received messages saying they should “rot in hell” and wishing they would become infertile or die of cancer.
Christian hotel owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull received hate mail and abusive phone calls after refusing to provide double-bedded rooms to an unmarried couple in 2009, Coleman said. The same-sex couple reported it to police and sued the lodge for 3,600 pounds.
“Other Christian guesthouses have also been successfully sued,” Coleman said.
A Christian housing manager in Manchester, Adrian Smith, was demoted to a job paying 40 percent less in 2011 because of views on marriage he posted on his personal Facebook page, a section accessible only to registered friends. After commenting that a government plan to lift a ban on homosexual couples holding civil partnerships in churches and other religious venues was “an equality too far,” Smith replied to a friend, a co-worker, who asked if he did not approve.
“No, not really,” began the comment that led the then-18-year veteran of the Trafford Council and Trafford Housing Trust to a reduction in salary from 35,000 to 21,000 pounds annually. “I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the State wants to offer civil marriages to the same sex then that is up to the State; but the State shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.”
Workplace colleagues said his comment could cause offense, and that a misinterpretation of his “equality” statement could render it “homophobic.” A superior acknowledged that it was not Smith’s comment but its misinterpretation that was potentially problematic, yet still ruled that he had committed “a serious breach of discipline” for which he could be dismissed. Because of Smith’s tenure, he was only demoted.
Housing trust commercial director David Barrow reportedly said, “The Trust has an equal opportunities policy, and Mr. Smith’s comments on Facebook, where he identified himself as a Trust employee, went against this policy.”
Free speech issues aside, a local Church of England vicar, Kate Burgess of St. Matthew’s Church in Trafford, was quoted as saying it appeared to be an over-reaction.
“I do feel that Christians are persecuted in this country, and this may be another example of that,” she told the Daily Mail.
Likewise, Christian bus driver Arthur McGeorge was threatened with disciplinary action in 2012 after distributing a petition supporting the then-legal definition of marriage during his work break, Coleman said.
“In 2008, a Christian care home had a 13,000-pounds per year grant removed for refusing to promote homosexual behavior to its elderly residents,” he added. “After more than a year of internal appeals – amounting to 21,000 pounds in legal fees – and after the case was made public, the council eventually backed down but did not offer to pay any of the legal fees.”
Civil partnerships granting gay couples rights and responsibilities equal to those of marriage came into effect in the United Kingdom in December 2005, but in July 2013 the parliament passed legislation allowing same-sex marriage in England and Wales, a redefinition that came into force on March 13. The Scottish Parliament passed legislation redefining “marriage” to include same-sex couples in February and received royal assent on March 12.
Several abortion and gay rights organizations have made statements about Christian groups in language designed to elicit hatred, according to ADF, including the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, or ILGA-Europe. On Feb. 27, ILGA released a press statement calling Slovakia’s proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman “homophobic.”
Under the title, “Slovakia must reject the homophobic proposal to redefine marriage in the constitution,” the release quoted Paulo Corte-Real, co-chair of IlGA-Europe’s executive board, as saying, “Recent and similarly restrictive constitutional amendments in Latvia, Hungary and Croatia demonstrated they are sponsored by religious extremists and ultra-conservatives who do not hesitate to abuse such democratic tools as constitutional amendments or referenda to pursue their narrow homophobic agenda.”
Roger Kiska, senior legal counsel for ADF in Vienna, Austria, immediately sent a letter of protest to ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis, copying the director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA); at that time Kiska was a member of the FRA’s advisory panel.
“Using press releases to vilify individuals and organizations for supporting conjugal marriage as being homophobic, extremist or ultra-conservative closes the door on any meaningful debate regarding the proper meaning and place of marriage in society, and directs people to hate conjugal marriage proponents,” Kiska wrote.
Asked about Kiska’s objections to the language of the release, ILGA-Europe Communications Manager Juris Lavrikovs told Morning Star News by email only that ILGA-Europe considers the recent passage of the change in the Slovakian constitution discriminatory.
“While the proponents of this constitutional amendment claim it aims to protect traditional marriage, we view such [an] amendment as aiming to restrict the number of people and families who can benefit from the rights and responsibilities of partners based on sexual orientation, gender identify and gender expression,” Lavrikovs said.
The Feb. 27 statement remains on the ILGA-Europe website, with the same title inexplicably asserting that Slovakia’s proposed constitutional amendment to include the traditional definition of marriage in the constitution would “redefine” marriage.
An April 3 press release by ILGA-Europe on a like proposal in Georgia, also equating belief in traditional marriage with homophobia, is entitled, “Georgia: Do not enshrine homophobia in the constitution.”
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