Middleton Grange, Free Exercise and the Gay Rights Movement UPDATED

Over at GayNZ.com’s Proclamations of the Red Queen blog, Craig Young is in a celebratory  mood. Middleton Grange, a Reformed Evangelical Christian school has been forced by law to pay reparations and have their management undergo “human rights education” because they dismissed a netball coach on the grounds that he openly engaged in homosexual conduct.

Middleton Grange is a school based in Christchurch. The school’s aim’s, as stated on its website, show that its first aim as a educational facility is to “Help pupils know and understand God and His ways and respond to Him in obedience, love and service.” The website further states,

The school rests on a Reformed and Evangelical interpretation of Scripture which informs all aspects of governance and management. The Christian Schools’ Trust is responsible for safeguarding the Special Character of the school.

Now it should be no surprise to any educated person that a reformed evangelical interpretation of scripture usually includes, among other things, the contention that sex between people of the same sex violates God’s commands. Nor should it be a surprise that, given the school’s stated purpose is to inculcate these beliefs, it will not hire or retain people whose example or teaching contradicts this purpose.

The only question that really needs to be asked then is whether it should be legal for religious groups like this to set up such schools and teach these things and engage in these sorts of hiring practices. Should reformed evangelical Christianity be a tolerated religion? The alternative is, of course, to ban such schools, force parents to send their children to schools that will teach that their parents religious beliefs are false  – essentially not allow adults to propagate these values to their children. This is known as religious persecution.

In fact by ruling that the school must hire/retain staff whose actions are inconsistent with the schools purpose and then requiring the staff to undergo “human rights education.” the Human Rights Commission (HRC) goes one step further. It states that not only must such schools not exist but it maintains that the adults running them must undergo compulsory re-education into the secular liberal way of thinking. Am I the only one who finds this sort of thing a tad draconian?

Mr Young, however, seems to think otherwise, he states,

Frankly, I’m surprised that this sort of collision between lesbian and gay teachers and backward fundamentalist enclaves has taken so long to materialise. I suspect that it’s because we shun such neurotic and hermetically sealed enclaves unless there is good reason to do otherwise

Apparently the biggest problem in all this is that this sort of religious persecution and re-education has not happened sooner. As to why such schools should be persecuted, Young gives three reasons.

First because it is a “malignant Christchurch fundamentalist” school. In other words, Young considers this school to expound fundamentalism and he considers such a religion to be “malignant.” This really is not the issue, the issue is whether the state should persecute such religious groups and subject the people within them to compulsory re-education. There are many religious perspectives I disagree with, some I find highly offensive yet this does not mean that the state should intervene in this way.

Young’s second reason is,

Founded in 1964, it was host to Graham Capill, Christian Heritage Party leader. His dad Don was Vice Principal until the eighties. I was a one-time inmate there. It served as a nexus for the abortive campaign against homosexual law reform in the mid-eighties.

There are three reasons here (a) Young attended the school and did not like it, (b) a political leader Young is known to immensely dislike and who was convicted for sexual molestation once attended the school and this man’s father was once Principal; and, (c) the school promoted political views at odds with the secular liberal mainstream on issues like abortion and homosexuality.

It is hard to see how any of these reasons justify the HRC’s actions. Is Young saying any school he does not like should be legally punished? Is Craig suggesting that if an old boy of a school is convicted of a crime years after leaving that the whole school should be held responsible? Does Young support a return to collective and vicarious punishments perhaps?

The last reason Young gave is perhaps the most telling; schools should be subject to legal sanction if their politics are disagreeable. Again, am I the only one who finds it odd that this sort of crap is proposed by one of the voices for “tolerance” and “respect for diversity”?

Craig then gives the usual red herrings; he states “Should it end there? Well, no. If Middleton Grange refuses to employ lesbian and gay teachers, then what about issues like LGBT suicide prevention? Or homophobic bullying?” While I agree that bullying of any human being is wrong (it being assault) and suicide of any person is tragic, the reasoning here lacks cogency. Suppose a fundamentalist Christian was severely bullied at school, the kids picked on him because they considered him to be an intolerant bigot or suppose that his refusal to have pre-marital sex or drink alcohol made him a social outcast? I take it that Young would support fundamentalist teachers coming into this school and teaching a fundamentalist interpretation of the bible to their students so as to re-educate those bullying him? Perhaps the HRC should force the management of any secular school that does not do this to attend church…

The only remotely sensible comment Craig makes is a rhetorical question, “Should fundamentalist private schools be penalised by withheld operational funding if they refuse to obey mainstream New Zealand anti-discrimination laws?” Indeed that is the core question. Should private religious schools be allowed to teach and freely exercise their religion? Some segments of the gay rights movement and their supporters need to be honest and just outright admit that they support religious persecution instead of talking about “tolerance” and “the celebration of diversity” – values they clearly do not believe in.


Madeleine adds

In the comments below Joel, a blogger from the US, writes:

There is no liberty in New Zealand, I take it, nor equality.

And what about the human rights violated against the Christian school?

I have chosen to respond this here as originally Matt and I had toyed with looking at this in this post anyway and so I don’t want it getting lost in the comments, which I anticipate will be prolific in number (just a hunch).

New Zealand does not have an entrenched constitution, its Bill of Rights is a simple statute which is ultimately subordinate to any other statute it clashes with, see section 4:

4.  Other enactments not affected
No court shall, in relation to any enactment (whether passed or made before or after the commencement of this Bill of Rights),—

(a) Hold any provision of the enactment to be impliedly repealed or revoked, or to be in any way invalid or ineffective; or

(b) Decline to apply any provision of the enactment—

by reason only that the provision is inconsistent with any provision of this Bill of Rights.

Although, to be fair, for any clash the clashing rule, law or policy must be read in the way most conducive to it being consistent with the Bill of Rights, see section 6:

6. Interpretation consistent with Bill of Rights to be preferred
Wherever an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning.

If a consistent reading cannot be achieved then the courts will either deem a policy inconsistent with the Bill of Rights or deem it a justified limitation,

5. Justified limitations
Subject to section 4 of this Bill of Rights, the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The reality is that due to the fact the courts cannot strike statutes down or refuse to apply them and that there are no penalties for Bill of Rights breaches either beyond the stigma of being in breach of it, which only works if society values the right in question, if it is an unpopular group or cause being violated who cares right?

So that is the context freedom of religion sits in in New Zealand, which is covered in the section on democratic and civil rights:

13. Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference.

14. Freedom of expression
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.

15. Manifestation of religion and belief
Every person has the right to manifest that person’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.

Now at a glance at these sections our US friends must be wondering how the tale Matt told above and the story in the newspaper article he linked to could happen; it appears that New Zealand requires the state to allow its citizens and private organisations the right to form any belief they like, impart it and act on it.

The reason you are momentarily lulled into this false sense of reality is because you have not factored in the Human Rights Act. Remember earlier when I said the Bill of Rights is subject to other laws? Let’s take a look at section 22, I have highlighted the key bits to take note of in italics:

22. Employment
(1) Where an applicant for employment or an employee is qualified for work of any description, it shall be unlawful for an employer, or any person acting or purporting to act on behalf of an employer,—

  • (a) To refuse or omit to employ the applicant on work of that description which is available; or

  • (b) To offer or afford the applicant or the employee less favourable terms of employment, conditions of work, superannuation or other fringe benefits, and opportunities for training, promotion, and transfer than are made available to applicants or employees of the same or substantially similar capabilities employed in the same or substantially similar circumstances on work of that description; or

  • (c) To terminate the employment of the employee, or subject the employee to any detriment, in circumstances in which the employment of other employees employed on work of that description would not be terminated, or in which other employees employed on work of that description would not be subjected to such detriment; or

  • (d) To retire the employee, or to require or cause the employee to retire or resign,—

by reason of any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Let’s take a look at the “prohibited grounds of discrimination” shall we? The definitions section states “prohibited ground of discrimination has the meaning given to it by section 21“. Section 21 is long so I have only included the relevant bits for our purposes,

21 Prohibited grounds of discrimination

(1) For the purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are—

(m) Sexual orientation, which means a heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation.

So there you have it, freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression and the manifestation of those beliefs are trumped by the Human Rights Act (and the Education Act which permits private schools to educate and manage themselves along the lines of the special character of the school).

Joel is right, New Zealand’s commitment to liberty and equality is lacking and respect for freedom of religion is lacking.









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