Religion takes a back seat to rights in court, says theologian

London, England - Prof Roger Trigg of Kellogg College, Oxford, said that judges increasingly “curtail” the religious views of people in favour of other “social priorities”.

After studying a series of judgments throughout Britain, Europe and North America, he concluded there was a “clear trend” of judges favouring equality and non-discrimination over religious freedom.

Prof Trigg, a member of the university’s faculties of theology and philosophy, argued this was proof of how religion was coming under threat from the judiciary as part of a “hierarchy of rights”.

Prof Trigg, the founding President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, said that as a result the courts were “limiting human freedom itself”.

“Religious freedom and the right to manifest religious belief is a central part of every charter of human rights,” he said on the eve of the launch of his book on Wednesday.

“But in recent years there has been a clear trend for courts in Europe and North America to prioritise equality and non-discrimination above religion, placing the right to religious freedom in danger.

“There should not be a hierarchy of rights, but it should be possible to take account of all of them in some way.”

He added: "No State can be a functioning democracy unless it allows its citizens to manifest their beliefs about what is most important in life."

In a new book, titled Equality, Freedom and Religion, he warned of a “worrying” trend of the courts placing their own definitions of what is “core to a religion’s belief system”.

He called for the rights to be “balanced” and that “reasonable accommodation” should become a standard thought by judges.

Prof Trigg, a member of the university’s faculties of Theology and Philosophy, highlighted one case that had come before the European Court of Human Rights.

In that case a civil registrar from Islington had refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies because of her religious beliefs.

He added: “It should have been easy to find a solution here … but the need to respect the right to equality trumped the freedom of religious convictions in this instance.

“The courts seem to have taken it upon themselves to decide what is and isn’t core to belief in a particular religion.”