At what point does a Government minister's religious faith become an obstacle to their career? The UN Declaration on Human Rights and the European Convention both stress the right of an individual to hold and to practice their religious beliefs. And yet, as an Italian nominee for the European Commission found last year, the fact of his Catholicism and specifically his belief that homosexuality was a sin meant that he did not get the job. A British minister, Ruth Kelly, is under similar scrutiny at the moment. She, too, is a practicing Roman Catholic and reporters have noticed her absence at various parliamentary votes on gay rights issues over the past few years. She is seeking to avoid their questions by taking refuge in the private nature of her beliefs.
Fair enough. But when those beliefs are in conflict with government policy on equal rights the tension between private and public becomes an uncomfortable one. It is an interesting ethical dilemma to which there is no clear answer. We need people of faith in government. We also need a fair and just society. It would be as odd to discriminate against someone for their religious belief as their sexual orientation. Does the test become public actions?