Editor's Viewpoint: A conscience clause is absurd
This newspaper will always defend the right of people to hold and practise their religious beliefs. We recognise that even though the secular world continues to gain ground apace, religion plays a hugely important part in very many people's lives in Northern Ireland. We also acknowledge the positive contribution made by the churches in attempting to create a more peaceful and understanding society here.
That said, we nevertheless contend that there is no place for the conscience clause legislation proposed by DUP MLA Paul Givan in a modern society. Religion may give us the moral template in which we wish to live our lives, but it should not - and cannot - be exempted from the duly created civil laws of the country.
Equality legislation has been hard won in this society and it is there to protect all the people from discrimination. Mr Givan may argue that his conscience clause legislation is a protection for people with deep religious convictions, but it is an illogical and ill-thought out proposal.
For, no matter what he argues, what this proposal would do if passed into law would be to allow discrimination against gay people. It is as simple as that and as wrong as that.
Quite rightly it would be challenged at every turn in the courts and almost inevitably overturned at every challenge.
One immediate obstacle is which religions would benefit from such a clause? How would the law define religion and what about people who have no religious convictions? Would they just have to accept current equality legislation or lump it?
This all stems from the refusal of a bakery to produce a cake with a slogan endorsing same-sex marriage. It was found to be in breach of equality laws. Perhaps this case could have been handled differently, but creating laws on the back of one exceptional instance is never a recipe for good, stable legislation.
To use an unfortunate phrase, this conscience clause has all the hallmarks of a Trojan horse, designed to impose a moral authority on society at the expense of accepted legislation. There is no indication of any overwhelming public demand for religion to be given an opt out option when it comes to equality legislation. The churches, mosques or synagogues are the proper places for people to practise or discuss their religious convictions, and that is where such debates should remain.