Ruth Kelly, a devout Catholic, was appointed Minister for Women and Equality in Tony Blair’s recent reshuffle. Many in the gay community were unimpressed. PinkNews listed the occasions on which she had failed to support Labour’s homosexual rights agenda and worried that Tony Blair’s decision to appoint Mrs Kelly may have "failed the LGBT community". Many other people have been much harsher on Ms Kelly. The episode is an echo of 2004’s "excommunication" of Rocco Buttiglione by the European Parliament. The Parliament concluded that Mr Buttiglione’s belief in traditional Catholic teaching on homosexuality meant that he was unsuitable to be the EU’s Justice Commissioner. Nick Spencer of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity accused the EU of totalitolerance:
“Buttiglione’s hounding from office brings to light one of the most distasteful and worrying trends of our time. It shows how moral conservatives are increasingly debarred from office, even when they agree to leave their convictions at the door. And it demonstrates how, in bowing their knee at the altar of ‘tolerance’, elements of the liberal left are prepared to adopt aggressively intolerant measures, to turn their own tolerance into a kind of dictatorial ‘totalitolerance’. Most worryingly, it marks the eclipse of the liberal vision that has been the guiding light of progressive politics since the days of John Stuart Mill. Buttiglione’s insistence that the personal and political can coexist while being at odds is the cornerstone of liberal democracy. The alternative is for the thought-police to patrol our personal opinions, to ensure they conform to the political norms of the day.”
Ruth Kelly’s position has been defended this morning by Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. Danny makes it clear that he does not share the orthodox Catholic view that homosexuality is a sin and believes that "for our Equality Minister to be a woman who disapproves openly of the very thing that she is protecting would be the most eloquent possible statement that we are a liberal society".
The people who object to orthodox Christians holding a post like
Equality Minister will not be content when they have stopped Mrs Kelly
and Mr Buttiglione holding justice posts. As Daniel Finkelstein points
out, the same arguments could lead to traditional Christians, Muslims
or Jews being prevented from holding all sorts of public offices:
"Ms Kelly’s critics say that the problem is not with
her, but with the office she has been appointed to. I do not believe
them. There was a fuss when she was made Education Secretary (how can
she look after stem cell research and sex education?). Clearly she
couldn’t do Health (abortion) or Northern Ireland (where do I start?)
or Culture, Media and Sport (Christian radio stations) or the Home
Office (community relations) or the Treasury (VAT on rosary beads).
Maybe a post in which she was paid to have unprotected sex would be
acceptable, but we already have a Deputy Prime Minister."
Opposition to religious people with morally conservative views holding
senior public office is only one aspect of the growing dangers of secular fundamentalism. Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger warned of the changing nature of ‘secularism’:
"Secularism is no longer that element of neutrality,
which opens up space for freedom for all. It is beginning to change
into an ideology which, through politics, is being imposed. It concedes
no public space to the Catholic and Christian vision, which as a result
runs the risk of turning into a purely private matter, so that deep
down it is no longer the same.”
It is important that Conservatives – in addition to their duties to gay people – protect the right of religious organisations to employ people of like mind and allow freedom of religious expression.