Evangelical Alliance urges caution after Christian foster care ruling

Eunice and Owen Johns and Derby City Council had been seeking clarification from the High Court as to whether the couple’s beliefs on homosexuality should be a bar to their becoming foster carers.

Derby City Council halted their application process after the Pentecostal couple said they would not be able to promote the homosexual lifestyle to a child in their care.

The High Court ruled on Monday that when it came to equality provisions, laws protecting the rights of homosexuals should trump laws protecting religious beliefs.

The ruling left the way open for Christians to continue applying to be foster carers but noted that if children were placed with parents who have traditional Christian views “there may well be a conflict with the local authority’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked-after children”.

Although the Evangelical Alliance said the outcome of the case was “unhelpful” for Christians and other religious believers with orthodox beliefs, it added that it was “unlikely that the case will carry any major landmark implications”.

It questioned whether British courts of law “should be used as forums for debating the pros and cons of conflicting human rights created by equalities legislation”, saying that they should only be used to resolve disputed points of law “based on evidence”.

The EA said there was “no doubt” that equality laws appeared to be disproportionately impacting against Christians, but said there was a “clear need” for a “more cautious and strategic approach” in taking disputes to court.

Dr Don Horrocks, head of Public Affairs at the EA, said: “We all need to be more clued-up in deciding if and when to fight legal battles. Of course there are occasions when defending religious liberty in the courts is entirely appropriate and if there is evidence of fundamental unfairness in the interpretation of equalities legislation then this needs to be addressed by government.

“However, it is counterproductive to provoke the courts into unnecessary and unhelpful rulings - especially when a case is weak and evidence is lacking. There may also be risks that Christians will be viewed as deliberately engineering conflicts with the courts or pleading privileged treatment.”

Dr Horrocks said Christians should instead be seeking constructive ways to safeguard public services as well as civil liberties by working with public authorities and only seek legal redress if there is “no other option”.

He said: “The good news is that Christians are and continue to be actively involved in public life and contribute to the common good. Following this particular case we hope that those in authority will continue to consider the welfare of the child first in allowing vulnerable children to be raised in supportive homes.”

The Johns were supported in their case by the Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern. Christian Concern said it would ask Prime Minister David Cameron to launch an independent inquiry into the outcome of the case.