The main church leaders have expressed concern about aspects of the new Sexual Orientation Regulations proposed by the Government, and how they will apply to churches.
Following a meeting on Wednesday with Minister of State David Hanson, senior representatives from the Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of Ireland and Catholic Churches said yesterday that there had been "an open and frank" discussion.
They stressed that they would seek to protect the rights of all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation, but underlined that the rights and religious freedom of Christians must be similarly protected.
The senior clergy welcomed assurances that the regulations would not impinge "on the doctrines and practices of our various denominations, including the right of teachers to present Christian doctrines and morals in schools" .
They note, however, that these exceptions do not apply to individual Christians "nor are we convinced that they cover all circumstances in which the churches will be guided by their doctrinal standards or the sincerely held convictions of a significant proportion of their adherents."
The clergy said that they were concerned "that the courts will be involved in deciding what is acceptable doctrine. This, of course, will not only apply to Christians but to other faith groups also."
They also expressed concern at the short time given for consultation on the proposed legislation in Northern Ireland and noted that, while similar legislation is being reconsidered for England, "it will be imposed on Northern Ireland using direct rule powers despite the many objections of churches and other groups."
They said that they were assured that when similar legislation is introduced in Britain "any differences between the regulations there and in Northern Ireland will be addressed."