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Making sense of the Derby fostering court case

What are we to make of the court case of Eunice and Owen Johns, apparently refused permission to continue fostering because they could not tell a child that they thought homosexuality was a good thing?

Simon Vibert of Wycliffe Hall thinks that a Rubicon has been crossed. This judgement signals a fundamental change in English law. In a similar vein the blogger Cranmer sees the comments from the judges on equality and secularism as making nonsense of elements of our constitution, including the establishment of the Church. Of course, it could be an open question to ask ‘Which should change?’ (And anyway, I can never tell whether Cranmer is simply parodying the views he appears to hold.) The BBC report includes comments from Robert Pigott on points of law, though I don’t know how qualified he is.

Melanie Philips is of course up in arms, though still makes some good points. Allison Pearson makes sensible points in a similar direction appealing to common sense. Andrew Brown’s comments are, as expected, rather cynical, and there is a more measured response from Peter Ould who looks at the details of the case, including what was and what was not decided. It is interesting to note that the judges were critical of lawyers on both sides and thought the case should not have been brought. John Richardson has a similarly detailed comment, where he wants to qualify Peter’s conclusion, though also notes some positive comments in the judgement.

Perhaps the most interesting comment comes from Gavin Drake, Communications Officer in Lichfield Diocese, who points out that, technically, nothing has actually been decided. The report from Christian Concern has their own take, but includes a link to the full judgement itself.

A interesting comment was made in a Jubilee Centre paper by Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Bristol. His final paragraph about absolutism, written in 2009, seems eerily prescient.

Summary from Evangelical Alliance here.

Do add links to comments you find as they appear.

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12 Responses to Making sense of the Derby fostering court case

  1. James Ogley March 4, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Somewhat briefer than Peter’s summation is this from the Mouse.

  2. Philip Mounstephen March 4, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    What interests me is the judges apparently easy assertion that the UK is ‘a secular state, not a theodicy’. For a start it seems entirely unwarranted to sugest that the one is the only alternative to the other. Secondly, constitutionally it’s incorrect: the UK (or England rather) is a constitutional monarchy with an established Church (which is clearly neither a theodicy nor a secular state). I live in a secular state, In France – in which ironically only yesterday the President publicly stressed the importance of Christianity to the nations history and values.

  3. John Richardson March 4, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I’ve offered an analysis here where I have concluded that there are indeed causes for concern, despite what some Christian bloggers have said about their being none.

  4. Ian Paul March 4, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    Philip, thanks–I think this was the main point Cranmer was making, though in less guarded terms. But the real question is, if you push the inconsistency of the established Church and monarchy with other evidence that we are secular, which one will you jettison? Given that it is likely to be the first, should cases like this (which raise the point) be brought? Or should we aim to make the most of the half of the inconsistency which helps us most, without seeking resolution? (After all, which country in the world is without its inconsistencies?)

  5. Ian Paul March 4, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    John, thanks for this. I think your analysis is very interesting, and as you say offers a slightly different perspective from Peter Ould. Have edited into the article.

  6. Greg Yerbury March 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    As I pointed out on another discussion that there is a question on any morality for instance can vegetarians who consider eating meat immoral now foster. Can a Muslim who believes that women should wear veils now foster? Has this court case created a precedent for secular morality?
    Although I have not read the details of the case I think the result should have been based on any proven harm that the foster carer would have on the children with any particular views they had.

  7. Philip Mounstephen March 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I take the point Ian, and think the bringing of these cases is unwise, and not actually a very Christian thing to do either. I used to be pro-Establishment, not because I want the Christian faith to have a privileged position, but because I want it to be able to serve the nation in partnership with the other main components of a democratic civil society. Therefore I am – or at least used to be – against what would effectively be the privatisation of the Christian faith: theoretically we do ‘do God’ in the public sphere but clearly it is only now theoretically so and is unlikely to go in any other direction. So the present reality of Establishment is that the State is increasingly willing to dictate to the church without apparently there being any right of reply. The advantage of the French model of the separation of Church and State is that not only does the church have no right to intervene in the State’s affairs, but the State absolutely refuses to intervene in the Church’s affairs. Maybe we too simply now have to negotiate some kind of a pre-Constantinian compromise – though I’d like to think – as I think you do – that something can be salvaged, and that we can find a way of living with the inevitable compromises involved.

  8. Ian Paul March 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    And Philip the massive irony of the French situation is that the Government pays for the upkeep of church buildings!!

  9. Jonathan Shewell-Cooper March 4, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    The judgement says “it cannot be said that an examination of the attitudes to homosexuality and same-sex relationships of a person who has applied to be a foster carer is unreasonable” and in their final words in “Moreover, in the light of the cumulative effect of our conclusions in [90]-[106], in particular, contrary to the submissions on behalf of the claimants, our conclusions that the attitudes of potential foster carers to sexuality are relevant when considering an application for approval”

    But what it does not appear to say what attributes can be objected to or not.

    But perhaps more worrying are the comments of the EHRC which says “attitudes too might be changed, moderated or modified through training, counselling and support”.

  10. Ian Paul March 4, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    JSC, yes, this last comment sounds a bit like the thought police…though interestingly the EHRC have issued a partial retraction which I will post up.

  11. Philip Mounstephen March 4, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    They do indeed, for any built before the separation of Church and State in 1905.

  12. Tim Fox March 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    I’m confused can this couple still foster or not? Or was it they could but now because they’ve brought the court case they can’t? It seems that based on the law the judgement is right. What seems to be ignored is that this couple have successfully fostered for 15 years – are any of those kids emotionally harmed for being in their care? If no their actions speak louder than words and their fostering ability should not be questioned. Maybe their mistake was to be too honest (Ecc 7 v 16 – 18)and the state’s not to follow Elizabeth 1 guidance of having “no desire to make windows into men’s souls”.

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