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Freedom of speech: Christian community ‘first to be silenced’

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PEOPLE of faith are always the first to have their right to freedom of speech threatened when contentious issues – such as same sex marriage – arise, the Dean of Jersey has said.

The Dean of Jersey, the Very Rev Mike Keirle

The Very Rev Mike Keirle, who was appointed Dean of Jersey last September, said that a ‘like me’ culture, where people only tolerate views similar to their own, has developed in recent years.

However, he said such a culture is a ‘parody’ of ‘liberal, democratic culture’ because groups such as people of faith are harassed for holding non-mainstream views.

His comments came during a hearing of the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel which discussed Jersey’s updated marriage laws. The proposed law change which include provisions for same sex marriage are due to be debated at the end of the month.

Some Christian groups have been criticised recently for suggesting that a conscience clause, which would allow people of faith to refuse business – for example as a wedding photographer – if it related to celebration or consecration of same-sex marriage, should be included in the law.

Mr Keirle, who thinks that it should in fact be called a ‘tolerance’ or ‘balancing’ clause, said that he supported the idea and added that he felt the rights of religious groups to voice their concerns are often trampled.

‘My feeling really is that it’s not the role of legislation to accommodate the rights of one group while silencing another,’ he said.

‘In terms of freedom of speech it always seems to be the Christian community that is silenced first. The rights of all groups need to be balanced and freedom of speech for one group should not come at the expense of another. But how do we achieve that? It is very difficult.’

He added: ‘The democratic, liberal society that we are meant to live in becomes a parody of that. It becomes a “like me” society where it is viewed that you all have to take the same view as someone else or face the consequences for it.’

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Later in the hearing Mr Keirle was asked whether he thought civil wedding ceremonies should be allowed to include elements which are religious.

The Dean said that there should be a ‘clear and simple’ distinction between the two.

‘If you are going to have a civil ceremony you should not have anything in it which could be deemed to be religious,’ he said

Panel member Deputy Simon Brée pointed out that it was not always clear whether certain aspects of a ceremony such as hymns are viewed as religious or not.

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‘The hymn Jerusalem probably means something quite different to a member of the clergy than it does to an England rugby fan, who would regard it as their national anthem,’ he said.

Mr Keirle accepted that there were grey areas.

The hearing was also attended by panel chairman Deputy John Le Fondré and panel members Senator Sarah Ferguson and Deputy Kevin Lewis.

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