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Caroline Farrow: May must act to defend the right of Christians to speak up


Oh how my heart sung the other week, when Theresa May mounted a robust defence of Christianity in Parliament. She even went so far as to state that “our Christian heritage is something we should be proud of”. You wouldn’t have heard any of her last four immediate predecessors utter anything half so bold, without some mealy-mouthed disclaimer.

Mrs May’s statement was prompted by a question from the perennially sound Fiona Bruce MP, who said that “many Christians are now worried or even fearful, about mentioning their faith in public” and asked for the Prime Minister to join her in welcoming a publication from the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, entitled ‘Speak Up’, which confirms the rights of UK Christians to speak about their faith responsibly, respectfully and without fear.

Theresa May endorsed the publication and its findings, saying that freedom of speech is a ‘jealously guarded principle’ adding, ‘we would all want to ensure that people at work do feel able to speak about their faith’.

Let’s just hope that Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust were listening after their disgraceful treatment of Sister Sarah Kuteh, a nurse of 15 years experience whose job responsibilities involved asking people about their religion before she prepped them for theatre, but who was sacked for asking people if they would like her to pray with them.

When I gave birth last year, I was subject to a barrage of unsolicited, intrusive and unnecessary questions both immediately before and after surgery about whether or not I planned to have any more children, including a number of personal remarks. Members of NHS staff are allowed to hector vulnerable heavily pregnant and postpartum women about the morals of having large families because it conforms with NHS ideology, but woe betide anyone mentioning that religion might actually be a source of consolation. I’d have much rather had the offer of prayer from a kindly nurse, than the director of nursing brusquely noting that they sincerely hoped that this would be my last child and suggesting that we ought to subscribe to Netflix!

While the comments were irritating, I put it down to well-meaning ‘banter’ and certainly not enough to lose anyone their jobs over. At the end of the day the baby was delivered safely, the clinical staff were medically competent and professional and were, somewhat clumsily, trying to do their job. Anyone who has had more than three children will regale you with a litany of unprofessional personal comments received during the course of their maternity care. Remarks which included irrelevant and impudent questions and assumptions about the paternity of the children. Imposing your beliefs on someone in terms of their family size and the type of contraception which they ought to use is absolutely fine and to be expected, whereas sharing your religious faith is completely verboten and a sackable offence.

Comments about family size and contraception illustrate the impossibility of leaving one’s morals behind when you go to work. As a Catholic, I hold a particular set of beliefs about this, which are admittedly influenced by my faith, as well as by science, philosophy and reason. An atheist, or member of the Green party, is likely to hold a completely opposing view. Both of us, could, no doubt, make compelling arguments in which we interpreted the same evidence entirely differently, based on our philosophical views.

The people who made the inappropriate comments to my friends and me, would have been influenced by their secular views and looked to find medical solutions for what they saw as a problem – namely lots of children. Whether or not we felt ‘judged’ will, in the opinion of people who don’t approve of large families, be irrelevant. However, were a Catholic or Christian member of staff dare to say something about the undesirability of abortion, for example, then heads would need to roll, in case they inadvertently caused somebody who had ever had one, to be ‘judged’, with their religion held against them as an aggravating factor.

Leftie-liberal types will happily blather on about the merits of limiting family size, or applaud doctors attempting to coerce women into sterilisation or long-term reversible contraception, but mention anything remotely negative about it, even if it’s evidence-based, or suggest that abortion could be a bad thing, then that’s it, you’re a bigoted Christian who cannot be trusted and must be hounded out of healthcare.

The simple fact is that all of us are influenced by our values and moral codes, regardless of whether or not they are faith-based. The idea that anyone, be they Christian, atheist, humanist or agnostic, can divorce themselves from their own moral, philosophical or religious views is nonsensical. What secularists of the type who sacked Sister Sarah are really saying is that it’s only their values and beliefs that have any worth and that these are the only ones that should be allowed in the public sphere. Are atheists truly suggesting that they shouldn’t allow themselves to be influenced by their own non-religious views when they are involved in work-based decision making of an ethical nature?

In the context of having to enquire professionally about someone’s religion, a gentle follow-up prayer-request, with a benign intent, is hardly intrusive or offensive, unless you just cannot cope with someone openly manifesting different religious values. Many non-religious people still welcome and appreciate other people praying for them as an act of kindness; it symbolises that the other person is wishing them well and to use a modern buzzword, ‘sending them positive thoughts’.

It is comforting to see Theresa May firmly nail her colours to the mast when it comes to freedom of speech and religion, but as the case of Sister Sarah Kuteh who is the latest in a long line of other nurses, doctors, teachers, magistrates, foster parents and therapists demonstrates, is that our Prime Minster now needs to translate her fine words into some practical, legislative action.

(Image: Rchard)

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Caroline Farrow
Caroline Farrow
Columnist for the Catholic Universe

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