Richard Page, the Magistrate sacked from the Bench and his Position at an NHS Trust because he said he thought a same-sex couple wasn’t the best placement for a child to be adopted, has lost his cases at the Court of Appeal.
Richard Page took both the Lord Chancellor and the local NHS Trust through an employment tribunal process and then onto the higher courts. In both cases the Court of Appeal ruled against him, for some very specific reasons.
On the matter of being sacked as a magistrate, the Court said that it wasn’t Mr Page’s personal views that were the issue (in fact, the Court yet again pointed out that Christians cannot be sacked just for having conservative views or for expressing them), rather it was that he indicated that he wanted to bring those views to bear in making a decision as a Magistrate that was the issue. Of course, this is absolutely right – we expect our Magistrates and Judges to decide cases on the evidence presented to them and not on anything else (certainly not their own opinions about morality).
Mr Page indicated that when it came to adoption cases, he wasn’t going to just make a ruling based on the social worker reports and the statutory framework he was asked to apply, but he was also going to take his own personal views into account. This is just wrong, and Page went on to compound his error by indicating privately and publicly (in a number of media interviews) that he would continue to want to bring his personal beliefs to bear in making a decision about adoptions.
It’s one thing to hold a particular belief, it’s another to say that you will put that first even if it contradicts what your job is asking you to do.
Imagine this in a different scenario – a Magistrate is a vegan and believes that children should be brought up in animal cruelty free families. Is that Magistrate entitled to not agree an adoption placement because the prospective parents turn up wearing leather shoes? Of course not, and in the same way, Christian Magistrates cannot let their personal views affect their rulings. Magistrates do not have that discretion and they certainly do not operate in courts which set precedents or create case law (with a very few exceptions). They take an oath of duty to hear evidence fairly and apply the law justly, and it is simply wrong for anyone to turn up in front of the bench and not know whether their case will be heard on the basis of the evidence, the law or the Magistrate’s personal opinions, Christian or otherwise.
The case against the NHS Trust was a little bit more subtle. Here, the Trust removed Page from a board position because they felt his views would damage the reputation of the Trust, especially with LGBT clients. Now, there is an argument to be made about who would even know about Mr Page’s views, but the Trust argued that it was the repeated indications in public (including TV interviews) that Mr Page would let his personal opinions over-rule the presented evidence in a court case that made them decide to terminate his Trusteeship.
And again I think they were right. It’s one thing to hold a particular belief, it’s another to say that you will put that first even if it contradicts what your job is asking you to do. Mr Page wasn’t at any point being asked to change what he believed, all he was being asked was to be very clear that he would exercise his duties without bias. Specifically, Mr Page wasn’t sacked as an NHS Trustee because he believed the Bible, but because he continued to make public statements in support of his actions on the Magistrates’ Bench.
There’s been a lot of research into same-sex parenting and specifically into same-sex adoptions. On the whole, children adopted by same-sex parents do as well as children adopted by other-sex parents, and certainly do better than if they just stayed in care. While there are some pieces of research that might raise a few questions around mental health outcomes, they are few and far between and tend to come from small samples (so less reliable) or are simply what we call statistical outliers (so you expect around 1 in 20 surveys to throw up results different to other surveys, just because of random chance). The bottom line though is this – it wasn’t within Mr Page’s remit to consider this research, and even if it had been it wouldn’t have concluded in his favour. His opinion that “children do better with heterosexual parents” was just that – an opinion – and had no bearing on the decision he was asked to make.
Like the Omooba case last week, these issues cause us to really consider what persecution does or doesn’t look like in the UK in the 21st Century. Are Christians entitled to demand that the world around them conforms to their beliefs? It’s one thing to stand up in a workplace and say “I am a Christian” and expect to be treated fairly. It’s another to say “I am a Christian and you need to change what you do to fit with what I believe”. When we do the latter, we’re not being persecuted, we’re being dictatorial, and it’s a long way away from our spiritual predecessors who were literally dragged out of their homes and thrown to the lions or burnt at the stake for just saying, “Jesus is Lord”.
Revd Peter Ould is a Church of England priest, a consultant statistician and a Primary School Governor. He has been writing and broadcasting on issues of Christianity, sex and gender for over two decades. He writes here in his personal capacity.
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