The UK's most senior female judge has admitted that the law may be discriminatory against Christians, highlighting the case of the Christian B&B owners who were condemned for turning away a gay couple – a case she herself ruled on.
Cornish hoteliers Peter and Hazelmary Bull were found guilty of discrimination against Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall after upholding a policy that only married couples were allowed to stay in their double bedrooms.
Preddy and Hall argued the policy was homophobic and broke equality laws. The court ruled in their favour and ordered the Bulls to pay £3,600 in damages. A subsequent appeal – funded by the Christian Institute – was later dismissed.
The Daily Mail reports that Baroness Hale at the time declared we should be "slow to accept" the right of Christians to discriminate against gay people, regardless of religious belief. However she was quoted in March as calling on UK courts to show respect and provide more legal accommodation for Christians.
Speaking on the issue at a lecture at Yale University, The Telegraph reported that Hale said: "It is fascinating that a country with an established church can be less respectful of religious feelings than one without".
"It is not difficult to see why the Christians feel that their religious beliefs are not being sufficiently respected," she added.
Last week the Baroness and other judges reversed their ruling that the Bulls must pay Preddy and Hall's legal costs, and Hale has now suggested that her original judgement may have been unfair.
Speaking before the Law Society of Ireland in Dublin yesterday, Lady Hale pondered whether a "more nuanced approach" is necessary when dealing with issues of religious liberty in UK courts, the Daily Mail reports.
"I am not sure our law has found a reasonable accommodation of all these different strands," she said. "An example of treatment which Christians may feel to be unfair is the recent case of Bull v Hall. Should we be developing an explicit requirement upon providers of employment, goods and services to make reasonable accommodation for the manifestation of religious beliefs?
"If the law is going to protect freedom of religion and belief it has to accept that all religions and beliefs and none are equal. It cannot realistically inquire into the validity or importance of those beliefs, or any particular manifestation of them, as long as they are genuinely held," she added.
"It then has to work out how far it should go in making special provisions or exceptions for particular beliefs, how far it should require the providers of employments, goods and services to accommodate them, and how far it should allow for a 'conscience clause', either to the providers, as argued by the hotel keepers in [the Bull case], or to employees."
The Christian Institute's Colin Hart has welcome the Baroness' words, noting that "The penny is beginning to drop among judges that the law is unfair".
"I hope the Supreme Court will find more room to protect Christian consciences," he added.