Leading article: Rights are sacred - except in church

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The Independent Online
LABOUR'S MANIFESTO was clear: "Citizens should have statutory rights to enforce their human rights in the UK courts. We will by statute incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law to bring these rights home." It was a pledge that did not need any hedging, qualification or exemptions. Until certain men of the cloth squinted through their half- moon specs and actually read the Convention.

Article 14: "The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion ..." Never mind that Britain has been signed up to this well-meaning stuff for the past 48 years, the idea that such a principle might be promptly and efficiently enforced by the British courts had the bishops choking. Why, that might mean courts forcing them to appoint women priests! It could mean forcing them to appoint atheist teachers in church schools! It might mean the churches having to face up to what "human rights" are and whether they are consistent with their traditional practices. Horrors! Church leaders ran off to see the Home Secretary and told him that, much as they approve of human rights and that kind of thing (especially in the Third World), they were worried about some of the unintended and perverse effects of the Bill going through Parliament.

Jack Straw has now given in to this miserable special pleading. It was the same with the hoo-ha over a privacy law: some sections of the press got steamed up about the right to privacy enshrined in the Convention (Article 8), overlooking the balancing right to freedom of expression and information (Article 10). Mr Straw inserted a clause in the Bill asking the courts to give due weight to Article 10 when interpreting the Convention. Now some conservative clerics are up in arms over discrimination, overlooking the balancing right to freedom of religion (Article 9), and Mr Straw is promising to insert another clause drawing this to the attention of the judiciary. It may be smart politics, but it is not good law. If the churches do not like the European Convention, they should be forced to come out and say so, and say why.

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