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Wednesday, 15 April 2009


I think I’m finding this a bit disturbing.

Pink News has the story of a “charity worker who revealed to a colleague that he did not believe in gay marriage or the ordination of gay clergy”, and has now been suspended from his job.

The story goes on:

Born-again Christian David Brooker, 44, who works as a hostel support worker in Southampton for the non-religious charity Society of St James, told co-worker Fiona Vardy about his beliefs but denied being homophobic.

Soon after the incident on 26th March, Mr Brooker received a suspension notice which was issued to “safeguard both residents and staff” following the “events that happened last night”.

An investigation and a disciplinary hearing have been ordered.

The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) have assigned a human-rights lawyer, Paul Diamond, to defend Brooker.

Now I don’t much like the CLC. Its director, Andrea Minichello Williams, is always bleating about something from a clearly right-wing, bigoted point of view.

This time, she said, “This case shows that in today’s politically correct, increasingly secularised society, even consenting reasonable discussion on religion between two employees is being twisted by employers to discriminate and silence the Christian voice and freedom of expression.”

I find it hard to dismiss that out of hand. Oh, the “secularised” bit, yes: she’s talking bollocks. Secularisation does not impede the expression of opinions. Anyway, plenty of believers are secular. It doesn’t mean having no morals or even no religion.

Where I find myself agreeing is on the question of Brooker’s being prevented from expressing an opinion. I don’t mind that people don’t agree with gay marriage, as long as that opinion isn’t translated into their work, if their work calls on them not to discriminate.

The story says that the Society of St James maintains that its action was based on Brooker’s decision to promote his religious views, “which contained discriminatory comments regarding a person’s sexual orientation”, at work.

Are we now to be prevented from expressing opinions at work? If so, well let’s ban all opinion, because any one opinion can, potentially, in some way, be deemed offensive by some people. A might not like B’s politics, may even find them abhorrent. Is B to be suspended because she expressed the opinion that, say, trade unions have too much power, that capital punishment should be reintroduced, that public football games should be banned because the fans are thugs, or that Gordon Brown is a pillock?

If by “promote his religious views” the society means that Brooker was shouting his views in a ranting sort of way and being insulting to colleagues and clients – gay or straight – that would be one thing (and we don’t know whether that is the case). However, if he’s conducting his work as it ought to be conducted, should he be prevented from having an opinion, and merely discussing it with a colleague?

That colleague might hold some equally bigoted views about other things.

This attempt to stifle people’s views is where I part company with a lot of humanists and others who think that matters of sexuality should never be talked about among colleagues if – heaven forfend! – one has a rather critical opinion about it. And especially if that opinion is informed by religion.

I don’t like opinion exclusively informed by religion, because I prefer people who think for themselves, freely and without the shackles and encumbrances of a body of opinion that, with the best will in the world, a person can subscribe to only some of.

Those who subscribe to all the tenets of, say, NuLabour, or the Tory Party, or the British Humanist Association, or the International Humanist and Ethical Union, or the Church of England, the Catholic Church or Islam is a moron.

Freethinkers will think freely, while obviously taking account of some of these tenets and filtering what they see as the good from what they perceive as the crap and the ineffectual. Most people who subscribe to an organisation will in most cases share most of its tenets with most of their fellows.

So why not brook Brooker’s bit of bigotry? At least he’s exposing himself to being talked out of it. If he kept it entirely to himself he might act on it without anyone’s knowledge, and so get away with a tweak here and an adjustment there to his work that disadvantages a client whose sexuality he feels uncomfortable with.

If we all had the same opinions about everything, the world would be a dull place, and there would be no debate.

But this is only my opinion, and I’m assuming I won’t be suspended for it.

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