Since in reality Big Brother is not omnipotent and the party is not infallible, there is need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The keyword here is BLACKWHITE. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.
– George Orwell, 1984.
From a report in last Sunday’s Observer, it is difficult to avoid concluding that David Isaac, successful corporate construction lawyer and chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) since 2016, would have been something of an ornament to the Party.
As readers of Rebel Priest will know, parents in a number of Birmingham schools – mainly Muslims but with a few evangelical Christians and others thrown in – strongly object to Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) teaching there which uses materials suggesting moral equivalence between ordinary male-female parenting and the bringing up of children in other ways – for instance by couples in unmarried or same-sex LGBT relationships.
In a calming exercise, Anderton Park Road, one of the schools concerned has closed early for half term. Last week, however, the EHRC chairman waded in with what looked like honeyed words. “My view,” said Mr Isaac, “is that it’s completely possible to teach the tenets of your faith in school, but at the same time say ‘that child over there has two mothers.’ We are asking them to respect somebody else’s lifestyle choice or desire to love someone of the same sex.”
Children brought up in such relationships are being
This is interesting, in that it perfectly embodies the attitudes of the human rights proconsuls who pull the political strings these days. Mr Isaac refers airily to the desirability of respecting (meaning presumably “not criticising,” an interesting semantic point which we will pass over here) lifestyle choices, and people’s desire to love (a word coyly used by Mr Isaac in the rather blinkered sense of “have sex with”) someone of the same sex.
Now, this idea – that we must not condemn any activity as off-limits provided all parties genuinely consent to it – pretty clearly encapsulates the secular morality of academia, the media and of the comfortably-off residents in whichever leafy suburb Mr Isaac chooses to inhabit. In addition, it undoubtedly accords with the world view of Stonewall (an organisation which Mr Isaac ran for many years until 2012, and which this year gave him a “top LGBT influencer” award).
The one thing it doesn’t do is accord with mainstream religious views. According to most evangelicals, all orthodox Catholics and all except militantly progressive Muslims, any form of sexual relationship outside marriage (defined, with apologies for pedantry, as a lifelong union between one man and one woman) is unacceptable. Children brought up in such relationships are being morally short-changed.
Choice of lifestyle doesn’t come into it: sex outside marriage is, to use an unfashionable word, immoral, and teaching that it is anything else is propagating error. Asking a schoolmistress in one breath to promote Christianity or Islam, and in the next to say that a family with two mothers is just as worthy as one with a genuine mother and father, is to demand doublethink and blackwhite on steroids.
We are talking here of two irreconcilable points of view. Notwithstanding any amount of wishful thinking by the commentariat, there is nothing whatever in the Christian doctrine of forgiveness of sins, or in the Muslim teaching of the all-abundant mercy of Allah, to suggest that either religion adopts the non-judgmental “anything goes with genuine consent” which Mr Isaac believes in. They don’t.
To suggest that they do, and that this in some way trumps a religious instructor’s right and duty to expound what amounts to sin, suggests either foolishness, or more likely in his case (since he is nobody’s fool) a shallow but fashionable misconstruction of what religion is about.
Stripped to essentials, Mr Isaac’s position is actually much starker. It seems to be that the teaching in school of any religious belief that does not adopt non-judgmentalism in sexual matters in the name of equality must be distrusted and probably forbidden.
He let the cat out of the bag when he said that he wanted to use legal powers to protect the teaching of LGBT issues in the face of opposition from faith groups, and that the EHCR would “take cases where we think it moves the law forward to protect human rights.”
It is better for parents to be a man and woman
married to each other.
Whether he is right remains to be seen. To suggest that international human rights law requires that religious teaching in schools adopt an “all that really matters is consent” attitude to sex even where this contradicts the tenets of the religion concerned is, to say the least, tendentious.
If it is correct, human rights are in a state of regular and wanton infringement throughout large swaths of Catholic Europe.
As regards the law, the question is at the very least fluid. Current statutory guidance simply says, rather primly, that “there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage”, that “pupils should learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships,” and that there should be “no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances.”
This would not seem inconsistent with imbuing in children orthodox moral teaching that sexual relations outside marriage are bad; that it is better for parents to be a man and woman married to each other; and that other arrangements, including same-sex parenting, are to that extent an unsatisfactory second best.
One merely has to add the obvious point that the world isn’t perfect and we have to make the best of what we have, and that if a child through no fault of its own does not have the benefit of a proper family it needs love and sympathy and not condemnation.
This is essentially the education the Birmingham parents want from a religious school; indeed, one might be forgiven for thinking that it was part and parcel of their right to pass their religion on to their offspring.
Unfortunately a noxious combination of local politicians (including Yardley MP Jess Phillips, who ought to know better) and the EHCR seems determined that they shall not get it.
Equality, in their view, is the right that matters; the right to the exercise of religion is a rather embarrassing secondary consideration. If it has to be crunched beneath the wheels of the equality juggernaut, then so be it.
Interestingly enough, concerns were expressed by Christian Concern when Mr Isaac was appointed to the EHCR in 2016 that his commitment to the ideas and aims of of Stonewall might mean that his commitment to upholding the rights of religious minorities would be less than full-blooded.
No matter: Nicky Morgan, the minister responsible, was determined to appoint him and did so. It is now up to Mr Isaac to show that Christian Concern were wrong and that the ministerial judgment was sound.
(Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of commercial law at a well-known UK university, who also teaches in Europe and elsewhere. In the 2001 General Election he stood as UKIP’s candidate in Bath)