Fostering Concern Over Court Battles

04/03/11 | Posted by MattPage

Jesus didn’t really tend to give advice. For all his perceived "love your enemy" cuddly hippy-ness, he generally told people what to do rather than just make suggestions. So it can make it quite hard to know what to do with the odd passage we come across in the gospels where Jesus does seem to be offering advice. One such verse has been on my mind recently - Matthew 5:25.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.”

It’s a verse some of us would do well to remember. The last couple of years have seen an increasing number of Christians trying to assert their rights via the courts, and in general they’ve not been fairing particularly well.

This week a case came to the High Court about a Christian couple who claimed they were being discriminated against by Derby City Council because of their beliefs. The couple had applied to be foster carers, but during the application process their views on homosexuality had become known and were flagged up by the council as a potential problem. Fearing the worst, the couple withdrew their application and found solace in the arms of the Christian Legal Centre who have contested a number of superficially similar cases.

And from there, things escalated pretty quickly. The two parties agreed to refer to the high court for a ruling. Derby City Council, having never actually rejected the couple’s application, stood their ground and asked the court for the right to refuse to place children with people holding anti-homosexual views. In contrast, the couple asked the court to rule that the council shouldn’t be allowed to ask their views on homosexuality and call them homophobic, and that it should be made legal to hold such views and still be allowed to foster.

However, rather than talking sides, the judges refused to validate either position; although they did agree that the attitudes of potential carers to sexuality were of some relevance to their application. Their primary finding however was that the case was not ready to come to court: it was far too vague and hypothetical as the council had not yet made a decision.

In the light of Jesus’ advice, this situation is somewhat troubling. This is just the latest in a long lines of people of religious beliefs using the courts to assert their religious beliefs, but in this case, a decision had not even been made: rather than wait for one the couple’s legal team aggressively ushered this one towards court, rather than trying to resolve it before the case got that far. The couple lost sight of the fact that they were being paid to look after children on behalf of the council. The council lost sight of the fact they have a shortage of foster carers. Ultimately, it’s hard to see how either party’s handling of the dispute was for the long term good of children needing foster care. 

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