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No belief has any right to special protection

Published 30/06/2015

RJ GIBSON'S letter (Write Back, June 25) confuses offences against a belief and offences against a person. Like many Christians, he assumes religious beliefs deserve special protection - the same assumption that underlies the so-called conscience clause proposed by the DUP's Paul Givan. But, in a free society, no belief has any more right to privilege than any other.

It is vital to maintain a distinction between opinions and the people who hold them. Gibson backs the intolerance of bakery owners in refusing to publicise support for gay marriage, but implies that we should tolerate verbal attacks on religious people, blacks, women, or gay people.

Tolerance does not mean that we should respect other people's opinions, religions, or ideologies, because a creed should stand or fall on its merits - irrespective of the individuals who hold it. But it does mean that we should respect the people and their right to hold these beliefs. Attacking a person because of his belief is bad enough, but, although I would disapprove of it, I would tolerate it. But intentional racist, sexist or homophobic abuse at those who cannot make choices as to who they are is intolerable.

BRIAN McCLINTON

Director, Humanist Association of Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph

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