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Pastor believes Human Rights concerns have been addressed

United for Change has every right to express their concerns about the Human Rights Act, says Reverend Nicholas Tweed, pastor of St Paul AME Church.

The group of churches is asking for changes to the Act which would give faith based institutions the right to discriminate against homosexuals in employment and membership policies and have issued a “positional statement” on the issue (www.ufcbermuda.org).

But Rev Tweed, who did not sign the positional statement and has publicly supported the prohibition of sexual orientation discrimination, believes that United for Change's concerns are already addressed by the Human Rights Act.

“I see what they are doing as expressing a series of concerns that the amendment to the Human Rights Act as they see it, will adversely impact or hamper the ability or the autonomy of their churches. Their concern is they do not want to be in a position where civil authority is dictating to them what they can do ecclesiastically,” he told The Royal Gazette.

“My reading of the Human Rights Act is that it already provides for and meets those concerns.

“If they are expressing those concerns which they have every right to do, I'm not going to be the one to say someone doesn't have the right to free speech. I affirm free speech whether I agree with it or not. Because I think that is what enriches the public discourse. So I have no problem at all with free speech and if people have concerns they have the right to express those concerns.

“But if one reads the Act I don't know that those concerns are not met by the Act. But I certainly understand if persons need to have some reassurance or some clarity on certain issues in that regard.”

United for Change's positional statement is seeking law changes which would allow churches to lawfully “refuse to employ or take into membership those who without conviction practice same-gender sexual relations or any other practice that does not adhere to the Biblical standard”.

And it is concerned that preaching about biblical standards may lead to human rights complaints.

The group of 79 pastors from varying denominations says the changes they are requesting will protect their freedom of conscience following the prohibition of sexual orientation discrimination in July.

It is concerned that the prohibition of sexual orientation discrimination would eventually lead to legalisation of same sex marriage, parenting rights for same sex couples and labelling preaching against homosexuality as hate speech.

And it says religious people may be at risk of facing human rights complaints by homosexuals.

The group does not represent every church on the Island or include leaders of other religions.

But in a full-page advertisement in this newspaper last week, the group reminded Government that most residents believe in “Scriptural teachings” that prohibit homosexual activity.

The Human Rights Act already provides exceptions to the general prohibition against employment discrimination for religious and some other organisations where the ground of discrimination is a bona fide occupational qualification.

And a religious organisation can lawfully refuse membership on religious grounds.

The Human Rights Commission has stated that the request by United for Churches runs “counter” to its mandate.

“The underpinning principle of Human Rights Commission is to ensure minority groups have the same rights and opportunities as the majority,” it said in a statement last week.

Pastor Gary Simons, of Cornerstone Bible Fellowship, who is the spokesperson for United for Change, has not responded to requests to clarify the Group's request.

Reverend Nicholas Tweed

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Published September 10, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 10, 2013 at 12:15 am)

Pastor believes Human Rights concerns have been addressed

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