Conscience bill must fail

Operating Room''Accident and Emergency, A+E, A&E, Hospital.
Operating Room''Accident and Emergency, A+E, A&E, Hospital.

An open letter to Paul Givan MLA

Dear Paul,

I’ve read with great dismay and concern your recent proposals for a conscience clause bill.

Without resorting to hyperbole or hysteria, I want to outline some reasons why this would not only be a very bad idea, but also why it cannot work.

Your proposals strike right at the heart of the social contract that all citizens have with the state.

Under this social contract every citizen gives up an amount of freedom in return for a level of protection from the state.

For example, we surrender the right to murder and steal etc. in return for protection from the same being exacted on us.

The defining principle of the social contract is that it applies equally to all citizens.

What your proposals do is undermine this fundamental ideal. A conscience clause will allow people to act outside the established social contract according to their beliefs.

Your intention is to “protect religious service providers… in the context of a religious ethos”.

I’m sure you’d agree that to do this in a legislative form the bill must offer the same protection for all members of society. This is a simple cornerstone of our legal system.

Your two options are (a) the bill applies to a named religion or religions and (b) the bill applies to all people.

Any bill that only aimed to “protect the rights” of a specific religion or religions would fall at the first hurdle of a legal challenge meaning (a) is not a viable option.

Under (b) the issue then becomes that anyone can refuse any other person their professional service based on an act of conscience. This essentially allows anyone to act outside of the social contract.

Faith, political allegiance, base hatred would all become conscionable reasons upon which we could discriminate by withdrawing our service.

I don’t want to point out nth degree, hypothetical scenarios, but surely you can see the implications of this would be deep, unpredictable and potentially very harmful to society.

I have no doubt that your proposals are deep rooted in your moral convictions. And I understand that, based on this, you may not feel comfortable with certain aspects of society.

However, your discomfort on these issues must be sacrificed in order to protect yourself from others’ discomfort with your views. However distasteful I may find your opinions, I renounce my right to legislate against you having them.

I cannot stand silently by and allow you to take us down the dangerous path.

The little solace I take is that it is blindingly obvious that your proposals will fail. Hopefully you will realise this too and not waste taxpayers’ money in a fruitless endeavour that will only drive another wedge into a deeply divided society.

Gerard Carlin

By email