News Roundup

Chinese Christian leaders sign statement on religious freedom in face of persecution

An increasing number of Christian pastors and community leaders have signed a joint declaration condemning an ongoing, violent persecution of Christians in China by the State authorities.  The initial statement, released at the end of August, was signed by 19 people, but many more have risked further persecution by adding their name to the list which stands at 279 now.

In September, 2017, the State Council issued a decree on the administration of religious affairs, and began implementing them in February, 2018.  Since then, Christian churches have suffered varying degrees of persecution, contempt, and hostility from government departments during public worship and religious practices, including measures that “attempt to alter and distort the Christian faith,” the statement says.

“Some of these violent actions are unprecedented since the end of the Cultural Revolution. These include demolishing crosses on church buildings, violently removing expressions of faith like crosses and couplets hanging on Christians’ homes, forcing and threatening churches to join religious organisations controlled by the government, forcing churches to hang the national flag or to sing secular songs praising the State and political parties, banning the children of Christians from entering churches and receiving religious education, and depriving churches and believers of the right to gather freely.”

The statement calls these actions unjust and an abuse of government power as they infringe on the human freedoms of religion and conscience and violate the universal rule of law. They then pledge to obey God, rather than man, even if the cost is martyrdom.

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Care home residents effectively denied vote in abortion referendum

The State’s healthcare watchdog has criticised two care homes for failing to provide elderly residents with adequate voting arrangements during May’s abortion referendum. All care home facilities are required to ensure that every resident is able to use their right to vote in all elections and referendums but the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found that the Croft nursing home in Inchicore, Dublin, and Cramers Court nursing home in Belgooly, Co Cork, had failed to do so. By this omission, the care homes effectively disenfranchised the votes of their residents. The two homes in question were found to be in breach of the law when they were subjected to unannounced inspections. It is not known how many other care homes may have similarly failed to provide voting arrangements for their elderly residents.

The incidents contrast with the Government’s major efforts to ensure that students would be given every opportunity and help to vote as they were expected to support the referendum.

Mervyn Taylor, executive director of Sage Advocacy, said: “People can forget that care isn’t just about the physical care but also about people’s rights as citizens.”

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Inquiry into surge in gender treatment ordered by UK Equalities Minister

An investigation has been ordered into why so many girls are seeking gender reassignment after the number referred for treatment rose by more than 4,000% in less than a decade.

These treatments include puberty blockers that suppress puberty, injections of cross-sex hormones that render women and girls permanently infertile, and physical surgeries that leave them altered for life.

The Women and Equalities Minister, Penny Mordaunt, has instructed her officials to look into the cause. Official figures show the number of girls being given gender treatment has risen from 40 in 2009-10 to 1,806 in 2017-18.

Over the weekend, a source at the Government Equalities Office told the London Times: “There has been a substantial increase in the number of individuals assigned female at birth being referred to the NHS. There is evidence that this trend is happening in other countries as well. Little is known, however, about why this is and what are the long-term impacts.”

Last month the junior equalities minister, Victoria Atkins, was criticised by transgender rights campaigners for expressing caution about those undergoing “serious and life changing” gender reassignment treatments.

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Big business starts campaign to redefine marriage in Northern Ireland

Several international corporations operating in Northern Ireland including Coca Cola, IBM and Citibank, have started a campaign to pressure the region into deconstructing its marriage laws so as to recognise same-sex unions as marriages.

Leigh Meyer, managing director of the Citi financial services firm’s operation in Belfast, said: “Today is the start of a ground-breaking journey for the business community in Northern Ireland, we make a stand with the LGBT community and apply pressure on the legislative bodies to make marriage equality a reality.”

“It is not just the right thing to do, it is the only thing to do, it is the proper thing to do,” she added.

The businesses released a joint letter which talked of ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘rights’, ‘equality’, and ‘prosperity’ but failed to mention ‘children’, ‘mothers’, or ‘fathers’.

They took their campaign to social media under the hashtag #Businesses4LoveEquality.

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EU Court weakens right of religious employers to protect ethos

The highest court of the EU, the European Court of Justice has ruled that the dismissal of a Catholic doctor from a managerial position in a Church-run hospital due to his remarriage after a divorce may constitute unlawful discrimination on the ground of religion. This case has important implications for all ethos-based groups, as well as the law governing the relationship between the EU and religious bodies.

Commenting on the case, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said the ruling contributes to the weakening of the right of Churches and ethos-based organisations to operate freely without State intervention—the kind of organisational autonomy that stands at the heart of religious freedom.

They added: “For church autonomy to be effective, Churches and religious organisations need to retain the right to decide on their internal process and occupational requirements within the positions of the Church and related religious organisations.”

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Romania to hold referendum to confirm marriage as one man, one woman

The Romanian parliament has passed a resolution to hold a referendum on the country’s marriage laws. If passed, the referendum would amend the country’s constitution to define marriage as a union between “a man and a woman.” At present marriage is defined simply as a union of “spouses.”

Over 3 million citizens had signed a petition in 2016 to hold this referendum. The upper house of Romania’s parliament approved the referendum in a 107-13 vote on Sept. 11. The lower house of parliament approved the referendum last year. The vote could take place as early as Oct. 7, and could bar any effort to recognize same-sex unions.

The Romanian Orthodox Church has backed the referendum, as have the smaller Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches.

Local and international LGBT advocacy groups have criticised the referendum, as have several dozen members of the European Parliament.

About half of the EU’s 28 countries recognize same-sex “marriage” and others recognize same-sex civil partnerships.

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Campaigner wants denominational schools nationalised

The existence of publicly-funded denominational education has been called into question with a leading campaigner calling for sweeping Constitutional changes aimed at severely diluting the rights of faith schools and other religious bodies. Writing in The Irish Independent, the former head of Equate, which campaigned against the rights of faith schools, called for a Citizens’ Assembly to consider eliminating the role of the Churches in education as a prelude to a referendum on the matter.

“The days of the Church dictating policy in education should be over. The days when Church bodies decide how young people are taught potentially life-saving sexual health issues – or what non-Christian students are taught during religion class – should be over,” wrote Michael Barron.

He zoned in on the key parts of the Constitution that undergird the rights of faith schools, Articles 44.2.5 and 44.2.6 of the Constitution, which, he says, “protect the rights of religious organisations to manage their own affairs, maintain institutions and to maintain property for specific purposes.”

He proposes a referendum that would authorise the Oireachtas “to nationalise essential State services such as schools and hospitals.”

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Pope’s visit not the end of Church in Ireland, says Dr Martin

Those who saw the recent visit of Pope Francis as presaging the end of the Catholic Church in Ireland have no idea what the Church is, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

“The Church is not just an institution of a cluster of social institutions. It is above all the place where we learn to know Jesus as the one who revealed to us who God is, a God of mercy and compassion,” he said. This was “a God who offers us forgiveness and new beginnings. In the Church we experience hope and renewal.” Archbishop Martin was speaking at Mass in Lourdes where he is leading 2,000 people in the annual Dublin diocesan pilgrimage. The pilgrimage includes 177 sick people, 45 nurses and eight doctor volunteers as well as 300 young people assisting them. There are also pilgrims from 20 parishes and for the first time 133 teenage volunteers from 25 different secondary schools.

“We look towards the future of the Church in Dublin and in Ireland. There were those who could only see in the visit of Pope Francis what they considered the end of the church as they saw it. The problem is that many of those commentators had really lost the understanding of what the Church is,” Dr Martin said.

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Legislating for birth cert ‘fictions’ will lead to human misery say experts

The possibility of large-scale human tragedy is dawning on the legal profession as the Government enacts legislation to name the ‘commissioning persons’ as parents on the birth certs of donor conceived children, rather than the natural, genetic parents. In a major article in the Law Society Gazette, Mary Hallissey writes that the creation of such ‘legal fictions’ have left child law experts aghast that birth certs will now sidestep the truth of a child’s origins and deliberately falsify legal documents.

Furthermore, the Department of Employment and Social Protection confirmed to the Gazette that the format of Irish birth certificates will change. The words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are expected to be replaced with ‘parent one’ and ‘parent two’.

Children’s ombudsman Niall Muldoon is quoted as saying that every child born through donor-assisted reproduction should have full, accurate information on their lineage and birth, including the identity of any gamete donors or surrogates. He said this is a basic aspect of human dignity and it is an injustice to ignore it.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the article says, is also abundantly clear on “the right of every child to its genetic identity, and to know and be cared for by its natural parents”.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is reported as pointing out that the right to information about one’s identity is “a fundamental human right,” and the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling that “everyone must be able to establish the substance of his or her identity”.

The article says it beggars belief that the law should effect this change now given the parallels with the abuse of the adoption system through fictionalised birth certs. Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said there are “layers and layers of parallels” to past adoption scenarios: “How can eradicating a child’s identity ever be in their best interests?” she asks.

“Have we learnt nothing about the sense of genetic bewilderment that these children feel? If a child is interacting with the State with this fictional piece of paper, it’s going to make any future search for them by their family of origin nigh on impossible.”

She feels that past law has largely been more concerned with protecting the feelings of adoptive parents, and that the same mistakes are being made again with regard to donor-conceived children. She notes the irony that we seem more particular about our bloodstock industry than the sense of self of Irish children.

At the same time, other experts such as Dr Geoffrey Shannon believes a child’s right to its identity is vindicated by the creation of a national register of donor-conceived children which will hold information about the child’s genetic parents and siblings. The child will be allowed to request access to this information once he reaches the age of 18, though the parents of the child are under no obligation to pass on to the child the fact that he is donor-conceived.

According to psychologist Emma O’Friel, however, there is no correct way to legislate for this because it is a harmful practice that causes psychological distress and puts some children into a discriminatory position.

“It is wrong to allow children to be removed from their biological parents for no other reason than the desire of an unrelated person. No one would choose this as a start in life – the temporal and geographical dislocation of a child – so why are we doing it?” she asks.

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UK to cut wait time for no-fault divorce from 5 years to six months

The UK is considering a radical overhaul of its divorce laws to remove fault-based divorce altogether and to vastly reduce the waiting time for no-fault divorce.

Under the current law in England and Wales, unless people can prove their marriage has broken down due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without a spouse’s consent is to live apart for five years.

The government’s proposals could see the concept of fault, or blame, removed from the process and spouses would lose the right to contest a divorce, as part of the reform.

The Ministry of Justice will launch a consultation on how long one party needs to wait before becoming entitled to a divorce, suggesting a minimum of six months.

There will be some who fear such a system will undermine marriage, but many believe it could remove a layer of stress and anxiety from one of life’s most traumatic experiences.

Ironically, while the stated goal of the reform is to cut down on antagonism in the divorce proceedings, it could also increase the sense of injustice experienced by a spouse divorced against his or her will in a relatively short period of time.

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