Church group meets DUP, SDLP on freedom of conscience Bill

Bill seeks accommodation between rights linked to discrimination and religious freedom

The Catholic Church in Northern Ireland has met representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Belfast to discuss legislation which will allow greater recognition to freedom of conscience and religion there.

The delegation, led by Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor, met the DUP group at Stormont on Tuesday .

The group was led by Northern Ireland First Minister and party leader Peter Robinson.

The meeting took place at the invitation of the DUP's Paul Givan, whose private member's Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill was introduced to the Northern Assembly last December.

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‘Reasonable accommodation’

It calls for a “reasonable accommodation” between the rights of people not to be discriminated against and the right to freedom of conscience of religious believers, and is supported by Mr Robinson.

Mr Givan's Bill followed a decision by the North's Equality Commission to initiate legal action against Ashers Baking Company in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, for refusing to bake a cake promoting same-sex marriage.

The cake was to feature Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and bear the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.

It was also to carry the logo of Queerspace, a gay, bisexual and transgender volunteer organisation based in Belfast.

Last December also, the Catholic Church announced it was cutting its links with the Catholic adoption agency in Northern Ireland following 2012 legislation which required it to allow unmarried and same-sex couples to adopt children.

Meetings planned

Following its meeting with the DUP on Tuesday, the Catholic Church delegation also met representatives of the SDLP on the same issue and plans similar meetings with other political parties in coming weeks.

After the meetings, Bishop Treanor asked: “Is it acceptable in a genuinely just, tolerant and pluralist society that one group are threatened with fines, imprisonment, losing their business or job, or in the case of the Catholic Church, losing public funding for long-established adoption agencies and other charitable services that we provide, in the name of providing equality for another group?

“It is as if we have swapped one form of discrimination for another.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times