AP muffs Britain's foster-care ban

In other Associated Press news, The Washington Post Website published a short AP story out of England yesterday that raised more questions than it answered. The article was only five paragraphs, so I can't adequately discuss it without posting it in its entirety. Here's what washingtonpost.com ran under the headline "Couple lose foster care right over anti-gay stance":

A British court has ruled that a Christian couple cannot care for foster children because they disapprove of homosexuality.

Judges at London's Royal Courts of Justice ruled that laws protecting gays from discrimination take precedence over the couple's religious beliefs.

Eunice and Owen Johns, aged 62 and 65-years old, had previously fostered children in the 1990s, but what one social worker described as their "strong views" on homosexuality raised red flags with authorities in the English city of Derby when they were interviewed in 2007.

Eunice Johns said Monday that she was "extremely distressed" by the decision, which Christian groups also condemned.

But the judges ruled that Britain was "a secular state, not a theocracy."

Where to begin?

My immediate reaction was one of shock -- not at the substance of the ruling, but the logic. When I realized that the Royal Courts of Justice is the British equivalence of the U.S. Supreme Court, I was dumbfounded. As I wrote at The God Blog:

even assuming that the judge was correct that anti-discrimination laws trump religious freedom, I don't understand how awarding a child to a family that believes homosexuality is sinful would result in an actionable injury to gays and lesbians.

And what in the world did the judge mean by saying Britain is "a secular state, not a theocracy." For one thing, that wasn't always true. More relevant now, though, is that based on the details included in the AP story, there is no evidence here that allowing the Johnses to adopt would be tantamount to using state power to coerce acceptance of religious beliefs or even legitimate them.

I was hoping The Post had run seriously trimmed version of this AP story. But, far as I can tell from reprints at MSNBC.com and Yahoo! News, this is the whole story. And it's a real disservice to readers.

After reading the story twice -- I have to wonder whether the AP reporter did this -- I had to search around the Internet from stories that actually made sense of the legal opinion. I didn't find much from stateside -- actually, only the AP story -- but the British media offered a few worth noting.

This BBC story helps a bit. It explains that the Johnses had withdrawn their application to be foster parents after a social worker expressed concern over their stating that they would not teach a child that homosexuality was an acceptable lifestyle:

At the High Court, they asked judges to rule that their faith should not be a bar to them becoming carers, and the law should protect their Christian values.

But Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson ruled that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation "should take precedence" over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.

They said that if children were placed with carers who objected to homosexuality and same-sex relationships, "there may well be a conflict with the local authority's duty to 'safeguard and promote the welfare' of looked-after children".

That's definitely an important detail that somehow didn't make its way into the AP story which, again, is the only one I've seen appearing in American publications.

Still, I'm struggling with the connection between the Johnses believing homosexuality is sinful and their potentially raising a child to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

The high court went on to say this is not a "threat to religious liberty," but their explanation is clearly in want. As this blog post from the Telegraph contends, "Christianity isn't dying, it's being eradicated."

Indeed, this will not be a one-off case, and Telegraph religion editor Tim Ross recognized the potential fallout of yesterday's ruling:

In their ruling yesterday, the judges complained that it was not yet "well understood" that British society was largely secular and that the law has no place for Christianity.

"Although historically this country is part of the Christian West, and although it has an established church which is Christian, there have been enormous changes in the social and religious life of our country over the last century," they said.

Considering the Anglo tradition in the United States, this ruling should be of interest to, though obviously not have any authority over, U.S. law. Also giving this story some legs is the fact that the ruling comes on the heels of the Anglican Church launching its "Not Ashamed" campaign, "urging Christians to stand up for their rights."

It would have been nice if the AP had recognized yesterday's foster-care ruling was more than just an odd story from across the pond.

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