English Councilmember Wins Religious Liberty Case

English Councilmember Wins Religious Liberty Case

The Standards Committee of the Wiltshire Council in southwest England has ruled that a council member did not breach the council’s code of conduct when she voiced opposition to a grant supporting an LGBTQ “Pride” event.

For the last 15 years, Mary Douglas has served on the Wiltshire Council in Salisbury, England, as the portfolio holder for social mobility and skills. In that capacity she sat as a member of a committee considering grant applications at an area board meeting on Nov. 4, 2019.

One proposal, from Salisbury Pride UK, sought a 2,000-euro grant (approximately $2,400) for a Salisbury Pride March in 2020. The proposal said the grant was needed to “raise the LGBTQ profile seeking better understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQ community and ensuring that Salisbury is a safe and fully inclusive city for all.”

Douglas, a Christian, voted against providing funds for the event, and shared her concern that by approving the grant, the board would be “promoting an ideology.”

“I cannot support this,” she said. “Not because I do not accept or respect or love people who identify as LGBTQ but because I do. I do not reject people who so identify, and I support completely their right to make choices and to live as they see fit.

“However, I do not support those choices themselves, nor the ideology they represent,” she explained. “These are beautiful people, well-meaning and sincere, but misguided by a powerful ideology … which I do not want to be part of promoting. This is not just my view—it represents that of many people who are afraid to say so, ‘the silent majority.’

“In fact, even if I agree with the ideology, should local government be funding a march to raise the profile and promote the worldview of any one part of our community?” she questioned. “In a diverse society, we need to tolerate different viewpoints and lifestyles, but we do not need to affirm them. Indeed, the very word ‘tolerate’ indicates that we disagree or potentially disapprove of that which we are asked to tolerate. We absolutely should permit marches promoting an ideology, religion or worldview, but we do not need to and, indeed, should not promote them.”

In the end, the board voted 6-2 to give a 1,000-euro grant (about $1,200) to Salisbury Pride for the event.

According to Christian Concern, a legal group which supports Christians in the United Kingdom, Douglas was confronted after the meeting by Salisbury Mayor Caroline Corbin, who told Douglas that she had been “hateful.”

And a week later, Phillip Whitehead, leader of the Wiltshire Council, removed Douglas from her role as portfolio holder, although he did not dismiss her from the council.

Moreover, a local newspaper published a story claiming that Douglas described transgender people as “mentally ill”—a false accusation that has been traced back to a member of Mermaids, a pro-LGBTQ group in the U.K.

As a result of the article, two members of the LGBTQ community, who were not present at the grant board meeting, complained to the council’s standards committee about Douglas’ views. The committee then launched an investigation on the premise that Douglas violated the council’s code of conduct.

On Nov. 6, the committee announced that Douglas did not break the council’s code of conduct, and her words were, in fact, protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“I made the statement at the board meeting because I didn’t just want to reject the grant application, I wanted people to understand why,” Douglas said. “I do not agree with the political message of gay pride, and should have the right to say so. To disagree is not to disrespect. In fact, to take the trouble to express disagreement with someone is a mark of respect.

“Across U.K. society, we must be able to disagree with each other while also holding each other in the highest esteem,” she added. “To be able to say what we think and believe is vital for democracy, community cohesion and good decision making. I do not want anyone else to be treated as I have been.”

Photo: Courtesy of Christian Concern

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