A ComRes survey published today suggests that the case of Owen and Eunice Johns (the Christian couple seeking to provide foster care in Derby) has prompted a significant shift in public opinion. The poll also highlights considerable public dissatisfaction with the current ‘Equalities’ framework and has prompted calls for urgent review and revision of the underlying legislation.
Following extensive media coverage of the case, only 30% of British adults now agree with the statement “would-be foster carers who hold that homosexual activity is morally wrong should be banned from fostering,” representing a fall of 10 percentage points since the question was last asked, before the case hit the headlines following the high court judgment in March 2011.
Interestingly, the change in sentiment was most marked amongst those in the AB social grouping with support for the ban dropping by over a third, leaving only 23% in agreement.
The survey also revealed that the majority of the British public believe that “Equalities legislation has gone too far,” with 61% thinking that “Britain has become a country where the right to exercise freedom of conscience is being trumped by equalities law.”
Given concern that the current Equalities framework is not fit for purpose, it is perhaps unsurprising that 84% agree that “the government should be required to review regularly the impact of equalities legislation on vulnerable groups and personal liberty.”
Following the experience of Owen and Eunice Johns and a string of similar cases, leading Christian advocacy group, Christian Concern, launched an ‘Equalities and Conscience’ petition, calling on the Prime Minister to ensure that “the law provides a basis for widespread involvement in serving society whilst properly upholding the dignity of every individual, including those who seek to live with integrity to Christian conscience and teaching.”
Today’s survey publication follows ComRes’ November 2010 poll which had already highlighted widespread public support for freedom to manifest Christian faith and exercise Christian conscience without fear of penalty and found that 72% of British adults agreed that “Christians should be able to refuse to act against their conscience without being penalised by their employer” whilst 73% believed that “the right of people to wear Christian symbols such as a cross in their workplaces should be protected by law.”
Commenting on the poll, Eunice Johns said:
“This survey suggests that when people see the end results of ‘Equalities’ legislation their confidence in it drops. Ordinary people who seek to care for others are being unnecessarily excluded. Equality legislation seems to be ideologically driven. Our case has given the British public pause for thought and we hope that politicians will take note. These issues are not going to go away unless something is done. We need an urgent review of the existing law at the highest level.
“Our experience and a string of similar cases has revealed that the courts are unable to resolve these issues in an adequate manner, leading to the exclusion of those who seek the wellbeing of others. If the courts cannot address these matters, Parliament must. We urge all those who care about this situation, whether Christian or not, to support this petition for change.”
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern added:
“Cases such as that of Owen and Eunice Johns reveal what happens when legislation is framed with the aim of protecting and promoting an ideology rather than with actual people in mind. The current ‘Equalities’ framework is unworkable and there is widespread public uncertainty about it. It fails to allow for the building of healthy, cohesive communities in which the dignity of every individual is upheld. We need rigorous debate and urgent review and revision.
“Christians want to participate in and serve our society, seeking the common good. Currently they make an enormous contribution but that is under threat. In fact, Christians will not be the only people affected by an increasingly oppressive and coercive regime that puts the pursuit of an ideological agenda ahead of the willingness of ordinary people to help others and to live according to their faith. We want to help Parliament to face up to and address this situation and create a better solution to these issues, for the good of all.
ComRes interviewed 1002 GB adults by telephone between 18th and 20th March 2011